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Amid 'unconscionable' inaction on radon, HUD and Secretary Ben Carson prolong silence with senators

Date Published: 01/24/2020 [Source]

Housing Secretary Ben Carson has provided no response to a bipartisan group of 10 U.S. senators pressing for federal action to protect public housing tenants from exposure to radioactive gas.

The senators on Jan. 15 requested a meeting with Carson, citing an investigation by The Oregonian/OregonLive that revealed the federal government's failure to safeguard residents.

Carson has not responded to the senators, and it's unclear if he will.

Officials for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development have not replied to six requests for comment from the newsroom since last week about whether Carson will meet with the lawmakers.

U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Michigan, said there are effective tests to find radon to keep families safe. The gas is estimated to kill 21,000 Americans annually and is the second-leading cause of lung cancer.

"That's why it's so unconscionable that HUD doesn't require this basic test," Stabenow, one of the 10 senators requesting a meeting, said in a statement. "Their decision is exposing families to this dangerous gas and to increased risks of lung cancer."

The newsroom's "Cancer Cloud" investigation found that HUD and local housing authorities nationwide have failed for three decades to prevent radon exposure in public housing.

HUD does not require radon testing by housing authorities despite a mandate from Congress in 1988 for federal officials to protect tenants from hazardous levels of exposure. HUD in 2013 began "strongly encouraging" housing authorities to test but has failed to monitor progress.

The newsroom surveyed 64 agencies nationwide, collectively responsible for nearly 125,000 units of public housing, and found that fewer than one in three could produce records showing they looked for radon.

Prompted by the investigation, U.S. Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley, Democrats from Oregon, fired off a blistering letter to Carson in December seeking answers to six questions. But HUD didn't respond by the senators' Jan. 6 deadline.

Wyden countered with a second, more conciliatory letter without a deadline. He secured support beyond Oregon from five other senators who already had publicly called for action in response to The Oregonian/OregonLive's investigation, plus three more including U.S. Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, and Stabenow, whose home state of Michigan has several radon hot zones.

The senators urged Carson to "take swift action to address this problem."