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Residents In Quaint Town Unfazed By High Radon Readings

April 5, 1986

CLINTON, N.J. (AP) _ Many residents of this quaint town seem unfazed that radioactive radon gas seeping into their homes could affect their health, and nearly a month after the problem was discovered fears center on property values and damage to tourism.

″I don’t intend to leave over it,″ says Sandy Rodrigo, who lives with her husband and 6-year-old daughter in the Hunterdon County town of 1,900 people about 45 miles west of New York City.

The problem became public after a homeowner using a radon-detection kit discovered a reading of about 1,000 picocuries - a measurement of radioactivity that the government says is equivalent in health danger to smoking 50 packs of cigarettes daily.

The government deems 4 picocuries to be a safe level.

″Whenever you’re getting 1,000 picocuries, it’s getting dangerous,″ says Jim Staples, a state Department of Environmental Protection spokesman.

Radon, a colorless, odorless gas, is the product of uranium decay and has been linked to lung cancer.

Staples says officials have not determined the source of the radon. Clinton is several miles north of the Reading Prong, a geological formation that contains uranium and stretches from Pennsylvania to upstate New York.

Thirty-eight of 49 homes tested here and in nearby communities had readings of at least 4 picocuries, including a second house that had a reading of 1,000, he says. The positive readings have prompted the department to test 60 other homes in Clinton, which spreads over 1.3 square miles.

Most of the residences tested are in the Clinton Knolls development, a cluster of about 140 ranch, split-level and bi-level homes built about 20 years ago on a limestone deposit.

Mayor Robert Nulman says that while the town is the first in New Jersey to be tested extensively for the naturally occurring radon, it will also be the first to remedy the problem. ″We’ll be the most-tested and safest town in New Jersey,″ he says.

Health officials say the problem can be remedied by ventilating the ground levels of homes. The town has offered radon kits at discounts to about 85 homeowners, and the Department of Environmental Protection is offering technical help to reduce the radon levels.

″It’s one of those things you can get rid of,″ says Fritz Lahmann, a storeowner.

″Most of the people have lived with it for 15 or 20 years,″ adds Roger Cook, a merchant who lives in the development. ″We don’t see it as a life or death situation.″

Clinton Knolls resident John Murray agrees: ″I don’t think it’s a big deal. It’s easily solved. I’m not worried about it.″

Mrs. Rodrigo says radon is nothing more than a pest. She says she is concerned about her daughter, not only the effect on her health but also the impact of TV reports she terms sensational. One New York television station says the town was ″sitting on a time bomb.″

″That can be very upsetting to a child,″ she says.

Residents seem to be less concerned with their health than they are with the town’s quaint image and property values. In recent years, Clinton and nearby communities have enjoyed the attention of commuters who find the rural areas a relief from the noise and smog of their big-city jobs.

″It’s a nice place to raise kids,″ says Ms. Rodrigo. ″People like the convenience of living far from the city.″

Cook says the radon findings may have only a fleeting impact on prospective home buyers. ″It’s gonna slow it down for a little while. But as soon as the smoke clears, people will be coming back,″ he says.

Linda LoBue, a real estate broker, says it is too soon to tell how property values would be affected.

Some home buyers have expressed concerns about living in the town, she adds, ″but nobody has says, ’Don’t show me a house in Clinton.‴

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