PRESS RELEASE

HUD Resists Public Housing Radon Safeguards 

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For Immediate Release:  Thursday, September 30, 2021
Contact:  PEER [Jeff Ruch (510) 213-7028; Kirsten Stade kstade@peer.org]

HUD Resists Public Housing Radon Safeguards

Groups Push for Radon Testing and Reduction Strategy After IG Findings

Washington, DC — Hundreds of thousands of public housing residents remain at risk from radon exposure due to intransigence within holdover management at the U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development (HUD), charges Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). Radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer after smoking and contributes to as many as 30,000 lung cancer deaths per year.

Following recent reports from media outlets which found widespread dangerous levels of radon in public housing units across the country, HUD’s Office of Inspector General (IG) issued a report on April 8, 2021. That report concluded that, contrary to law and agency policy, major HUD divisions still do not test or require public housing agencies to test for radon or to mitigate excessive radon levels, when found. 

The IG recommended specific corrective actions, warning that “Due to the danger that prolonged radon exposure can pose to residents, it is critical for HUD to act.”  Yet to date, HUD has not implemented these measures and. based upon accounts by HUD employees, is resisting them. 

Radon is a colorless, odorless, and inert radioactive substance found in soil, rocks, and groundwater that can accumulate in the air of buildings.  Latest figures indicate the average length of stay in assisted housing is 6 years and rising.  This trend increases residents’ lifetime risk for developing radon-induced lung cancer in units where elevated levels are present. 

“Federal negligence is fostering a major public health threat for households who are already among the most vulnerable,” stated PEER Pacific Director Jeff Ruch, noting HUD agreed with the IG recommendations but managers are slow-walking steps that make it appear they had not been doing their jobs. “Providing public housing that is safe is a bedrock HUD role that has somehow gotten lost.” 

The two major divisions where the IG found either a deficient or no radon policy at all are Public and Indian Housing  (PIH) and Community Planning and Development (CPD). PIH provides housing assistance to approximately one million households living in public housing units, run by some 2,890 local Public Housing Authorities.  CPD provides block grants to states and localities for developing an estimated 526,000 affordable rental units and 254,000 rehabilitations.

The IG also found that HUD has shirked a more than 30-year-old statutory mandate to “Develop a departmental policy for dealing with radon contamination…to ensure that housing occupants are not exposed to hazardous levels of radon…[with] programs for education, research, testing, and mitigation of radon hazards in housing.”  Since exposure to radon shows no immediate health effects or other warning signs, testing is often the best prevention. 

This IG report was issued shortly after U.S. Representative Marcia Fudge (D-OH) was confirmed as HUD Secretary.  PEER is asking Secretary Fudge to take immediate steps to implement the IG recommendations, including a department-wide radon reduction strategy

“We are concerned that Secretary Fudge may not be aware of the level of recalcitrance within her new agency,” added Ruch, pointing to the ambitious environmental justice agenda of the Biden administration. “Her leadership will be vital to ensuring that HUD becomes a big part of the solution rather than a source of the problem.” 

 

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Read the coalition letter 

View the IG report 

Look at health toll of radon 

See Biden environmental justice agenda