December 05, 2019

Wyden, Merkley Demand HUD Address Radon Dangers in Public Housing

Senators’ letter to federal housing regulators follows investigative reporting on radon by The Oregonian

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley today asked federal housing regulators to explain why they have failed to protect tenants living in federally subsidized housing nationwide from the cancer-causing dangers of radon.

Citing recent investigative reporting by The Oregonian about unaddressed radon hazards in Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) units, the Oregon senators asked the federal housing agency why it has not followed a 1988 law requiring HUD to deal effectively with radon contamination in its properties.

“We write to express our serious concern that the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has neglected its legal responsibility to protect occupants of federally subsidized housing from the cancer-causing, odorless and colorless gas radon,” Wyden and Merkley wrote HUD Secretary Ben Carson.

“Despite a 1988 law requiring HUD to develop an effective departmental policy for dealing with radon contamination… to ensure that occupants of [public housing] are not exposed to hazardous levels of radon,[1] HUD still does not require radon testing in all one million-plus federally subsidized housing units nationally, and has not taken responsibility to test for radon when housing authorities cannot or do not,” they wrote. “We believe HUD should shoulder the responsibility to test for radon because tenants’ lives depend on it.”

Wyden and Merkley noted in their letter that the Environmental Protection Agency estimates more than 21,000 Americans die each year from lung cancer caused by exposure to radon, a gas produced by natural processes underground that can seep through floors and into homes, typically through basements.

Although HUD issued guidance in 2013 encouraging local housing authorities to test for radon, the senators pointed to the recent reporting by The Oregonian detailing extensive allegations that between 2013 and 2018, HUD did not test for radon in a single unit operated by a housing authority directly managed by HUD.

Wyden and Merkley asked HUD to answer the following questions by no later than Jan. 6, 2020.

  1. With whom does HUD believe the ultimate responsibility for compliance with its congressionally mandated responsibility to ensure that those living in public housing “are not exposed to hazardous levels of radon,” lies?
  2. If HUD believes they have delegated that entire authority to public housing authorities, what steps has HUD taken to ensure that authority is being carried out?
  3. What steps will HUD take to increase that compliance?
  4. Does HUD have any current plans to expand the scope of mandatory radon testing in federally subsidized housing beyond its current reach?
  5. Does HUD plan to survey the threat of radon exposure in at-risk federally subsidized housing units as reported by the Oregonian?
  6. Will HUD commit to mandating implementation of radon mitigation systems immediately upon discovery of a high radon test result?

A copy of the entire letter is available here.

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