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January 29, 2020

Senator Doug Jones Urges Trump Administration to Address Unsafe Radon Levels in Public Housing

His letter comes in response to media reports detailing cancer-causing radon in public housing in Huntsville, Alabama

WASHINGTON — U.S. Senator Doug Jones (D-Ala.) today sent a letter to U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Ben Carson urging him to respond to media reports that found that tenants of public housing units, including Butler Terrace Addition in Huntsville, Alabama, were exposed to hazardous levels of radon. Radon is a radioactive gas that is created by natural processes and is the second-leading cause of fatal lung cancer in the United States.

The tests detailed by AL.com revealed that three apartments in Butler Terrace Addition had “an average level of radioactivity above the level that radon contractors say calls for specialized ventilation systems to remove it,” while two others in the same development were found to be above the federal standard for radon.

“Given the troubling results of this investigation, HUD should make every effort to ensure public housing across the country is tested for radon and, if found, also mitigated expeditiously,” Senator Jones wrote. “HUD must ensure Americans living in federally subsidized housing are free from the risks posed by high radon levels.”

Jones’ letter continued, “As you prepare the President’s Fiscal Year 2021 Budget for release, I ask that you include a request for funds that is sufficient to test for and mitigate high radon levels in federally subsidized housing. HUD must ensure Americans living in federally subsidized housing are free from the risks posed by high radon levels.”

A copy of the letter is available here and below.

The Honorable Dr. Ben Carson
Secretary
Department of Housing and Urban Development
451 7th Street S.W.
Washington, D.C. 20410

Dear Secretary Carson:

I want to draw your attention to an alarming investigation by AL.com[1] that found tenants of public housing in Huntsville and across the country were exposed to hazardous levels of radon. I am writing to express my deep concern about these findings and to ask what the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is doing to address this very serious health issue and that funding for radon be included in your request for President’s Fiscal Year 2021 Budget.

Reporters tested for cancer-causing radon in public housing units across the country, including Butler Terrace Addition in Huntsville, Alabama. The tests revealed that three apartments in Butler Terrace Addition had “an average level of radioactivity above the level that radon contractors say calls for specialized ventilation systems to remove it,” while two others in the same development were found to be above the federal standard for radon.[2] This exposure is unacceptable.

Given the troubling results of this investigation, HUD should make every effort to ensure public housing across the country is tested for radon and, if found, also mitigated expeditiously. In fact, Congress recognized this danger to tenant health in 1988 and directed HUD to establish a policy to deal with radon contamination in public housing.[3]   

As you know, radon is a radioactive gas that is created by natural processes and is the second-leading cause of fatal lung cancer in the United States. It is estimated that 21,000 Americans die from lung cancer caused by radon exposure each year.[4] In Alabama, 15 out of 67 counties have been identified as having the highest potential for elevated radon levels.[5] Given these facts, I encourage HUD to do more to ensure that tenants in public housing are safe from radon.

One million-plus federally subsidized housing units across the nation may be contaminated by radon and, as the Center for Disease Control states, “testing your home is the only way to find out if you have a radon problem.”[6] However, currently HUD neither mandates testing for radon nor enforces mitigation of high radon levels.

As you prepare the President’s Fiscal Year 2021 Budget for release, I ask that you include a request for funds that is sufficient to test for and mitigate high radon levels in federally subsidized housing. HUD must ensure Americans living in federally subsidized housing are free from the risks posed by high radon levels.

Thank you for your attention to this critical health issue for tenants living in public housing. I look forward to your timely response.

Sincerely,

Doug Jones
United States Senator

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