Assemblymember Linda B. Rosenthal & State Senator Diane J. Savino Announce Introduction of Legislation to Protect Public from Exposure to Cancer-Causing Radon from Natural Gas Pipelines

Upcoming forum at The Cooper Union will explore the issue and identify solutions

in natural gas pipelines. The bill is sponsored by Sen. Diane Savino (D/IP/WF-Staten Island) in the State Senate. Radon comes from the natural (radioactive) breakdown of uranium in soil, rock and water and gets into the air you breathe.

“Radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer in the country after smoking,” said Assemblymember Linda B. Rosenthal. “With the proliferation of pipelines carrying natural gas to homes across the state and in New York City, it is critical that the state set standards for maximum acceptable levels to guard against what is completely preventable exposure of the public to a known carcinogen.”

The bill would require the New York State Department of Health, through its Bureau of Environmental Radiation, to continuously monitor the levels of radon in natural gas distribution to homes and report those levels on a publicly accessible website. Though there are no safe levels of radon, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has set actionable indoor air levels at a maximum of 2 picocuries per liter (pCi/L). Using the EPA standards as a guide, the bill requires that immediate remedial action be taken, up to and including halting gas distribution, if the radon levels in gas tested meets or exceeds 2 pCi/L.

“With New York City set to replace other home heating fuels with natural gas, the dangers associated with radon exposure potentially increase,” said Assemblymember Rosenthal. “Rather than waiting for the risk to materialize, we must take action now to protect citizens against the known risks of radon.”

While all natural gas delivered to consumers in the United States contains some level of radon, shale gas development produces natural gas containing radon which varies from one production area to another. Currently, the United States acquires the vast majority of its natural gas from sites in the Gulf of Mexico. The amount of radon in natural gas from this area is approximately 5pCi/L, which naturally decays to safe levels over the week or more that it takes for the gas to reach New York.

"Staten Island has some of the highest levels of radon in the state," said Senator Diane J. Savino (D/IP/WF-Staten Island). "With more natural gas pipelines potentially in the works, it is critical that we ensure that delivery methods are safe and people are not being exposed to dangerous levels of a known carcinogen."

With natural gas production and development being considered much closer to home, radon levels have the potential to be much higher at the distribution points because the gas has not spent a week or more in transit. What’s more, early research has shown that natural gas from the Marcellus Shale contains higher levels of radon than gas from other areas.

Albert Appleton, former NYC DEP Commissioner, Senior Fellow at the Cooper Union Institute of Sustainable Design, said in a statement, “In promoting the expanded use of natural gas, City and State agencies failed to think through all the consequences, and further failed to heed some clear warning signs that shale gas from Pennsylvania cold have radon levels that would represent a major threat to the public health of New Yorkers. Agency officials need to do now, what they should have done months ago: arrange the necessary studies and research to assess the threat before proceeding further down the shale gas path. Governor Cuomo and Mayor Bloomberg should pause the progress and order conduct those studies. Assemblymember Linda Rosenthal’s legislation recognizes the dangers, and would provide the protection the public needs from an unintended spike in radon levels, and it will ensure that the public’s health is protected. The lack of governmental attention to this issue has been truly lamentable.

“Despite Mayor Bloomberg’s enthusiasm for natural gas from the nearby Marcellus shale to replace fuel oil, we must recognize and address the public health risks of the radioactive radon in this gas. If nothing is done to eliminate the problem, radon will become the silent killer in the kitchens of New York. With no color, taste or odor and no flammability or reactivity, when radon levels increase by 40 to 80 fold or more as Marcellus gas replaces the existing low radon Gulf Coast source of supply, our first realization of the impact of the high radon gas will be decades from now when the long latency period runs out and lung cancers spiral out of control. It will be too late then to take action. It is a public health certainty that rising radon levels in our natural gas will cause more lung cancers, unless we do something now to keep radon levels from increasing. The first step is to acknowledge the reality of the issue and the second step is to commit to taking action now, before the radon is spread throughout the gas supply system,” said Jeff Zimmerman, Public Interest Attorney and Radon Expert.

Assemblymember Rosenthal will join a panel of experts at The Cooper Union Institute for Sustainable Design at a public education forum entitled “Lung Cancer & New York City Kitchens: Why Increased Radon Levels in Natural Gas Could Be a Public Health Disaster.” The forum, which will take place on Tuesday, May 14, 2013 from 7:00 pm to 9:30 pm in The Great Hall at The Cooper Union located at 7 East 7th Street, between 3rd and 4th Avenues, will address the dangers of potentially elevated radon levels in natural gas, what can be done about them and the ways to create a more sustainable energy future more generally.

At this time, confirmed panelists include the following experts:

  • Kevin Bone, Director, Cooper Union Institute for Sustainable Design
  • Al Appleton, former Commissioner, New York State Department of Environmental Protection
  • Sheila Bushkin-Bedient, MD, MPH, Institute for Health & the Environment, University of Albany
  • Jeff Zimmerman, Public Interest Attorney & Radiation Expert
  • David Braun, President, United for Action