Radon Safety Issues Ahead of Spectra Pipeline Launch
Radon Safety Issues Ahead of Spectra Pipeline Launch

NEW YORK—As the Nov. 2013 completion of the Spectra natural gas pipeline under Lower Manhattan nears, worries that radon could pose a health concern has some advocates taking action. 

Radon, which is found in natural gas, is invisible, odorless, and tasteless. The naturally-occurring radon dissipates over time, but Spectra will bring the fuel to New York faster than current sources, which increases the chances of radon levels being high enough to pose a health risk, particularly because New York City apartment kitchens are often poorly ventilated.

“All things being equal, the conditions of New York City apartments are that the kitchens are very small and enclosed,” said Clare Donohue, a professional New York City kitchen designer and a volunteer with the advocacy group Sane Energy Project. 

“Most people cook and have the gas on during the winter when the windows are closed,” Donohue said. “During the winter, because it’s used for heating, gas moves much more quickly.”

Just to be on the safe side, Donohue is working with Sane Energy Project and New York State Assembly member Linda Rosenthal’s office to pass legislation that would require New York City energy providers Con Edison and National Grid to monitor the radon levels of gas being piped into the city. 

The legislation, which hasn’t passed out of committee yet, would also put some additional safeguards in place. It would require the gas providers to monitor radon levels at entry points to the city and also be prepared to temporarily shut down the gas line if the levels get too high. Donohue contends that the proposal wouldn’t impact gas supply, as other sources could pick up the slack.

Donohue’s group plans to test radon levels in homes in all five boroughs in December and January. The radon testing kits will be distributed in the winter, since accurate home testing requires keeping windows closed for at least three days in a row. 

There are no immediate health risks from exposure to radon, but according to the U.S. Surgeon General’s office, radon is responsible for over 20,000 deaths a year in the United States, particularly among smokers. 

When asked about radon safety concerns, a spokesperson from Con Edison, the provider associated with the Spectra pipeline, said in an email that the company “defer to the regulatory agencies that have jurisdiction in the interstate transportation of natural gas since they are closer to the topic.”

The corporate office for Spectra also deferred to experts on the topic when asked for comment. 

Spectra also pointed to a July 2012 scientific study. The study found that samples collected along the Texas Eastern and Algonquin pipelines, and particularly at the point near where the pipeline would be extended into the New York City metropolitan area, would be safe. 

In an emailed statement, Spectra said that “the sample analyses clearly show that the radon levels in the natural gas are low and will cause no significant health risk.”

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