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Officials discuss radon levels

Right around springtime four years ago, what Gail Orcutt thought were allergies turned out to be much worse.

“I found out I had lung cancer,” the Pleasant Hill resident said. “I’ve never smoked a day in my life.”

Her cancer didn’t come from cigarettes. Instead, the culprit was a colorless, odorless gas: radon.

Radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer in the nation, claiming roughly 21,000 lives each year, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

Orcutt, a retired teacher and lung-cancer survivor, made it her mission to educate people and raise awareness on the poisonous gas.

Now, after a recurrence of the cancer in August, and only a week out of chemotherapy, she is teaming with an elected official.

Rep. Bruce Braley, D-Iowa, has been spearheading the push to create legislation that would require more testing for radon levels in the state, especially in schools. Braley has advocated in Congress for resources and support.

The Iowa Legislature did not pass a bill to require redon testing; however, legislation was passed two weeks ago that requires a statewide report be published on radon testing in school districts in Iowa.

“[It’s important] to make sure school districts that need assistance to properly monitor and remediate radon levels have the funds they need to protect students, faculty, and staff,” Braley said.

In 2012, he introduced an act to protect public schools from high levels of radon. The End Radon in Schools Act would also provide grants to test radon levels.

He also introduced an amendment to the Elementary and Secondary Education Act in 2013 to help end radon risks in schools across the nation.

In line with his efforts to help people understand the risks, Braley met Monday with Iowa City School District officials to discuss radon testing and mitigation.

“It’s always helpful to talk with people who have been dealing with the problem you’re trying to address through public policy,” he said.

Mitigation is a method of reducing radon that involves the use of a tube to collect radon and release it into the air above a structure as opposed to inside of it.

Braley, school Superintendent Steve Murley, officials from the Johnson County physical plant, as well as elementary school principals discussed radon testing in the district.

Radon assessments are performed every two years; the latest revealed that the Borlaug, Shimek, and Coralville Central Elementary schools showed above-average levels in certain areas of the building.

Anything above 4 picoCuries per liter is considered an “action level,” meaning officials have to address the problem.

Fixing ventilation issues in buildings has been a common solution in the local School District. It involves using a heat exchanger or energy recovery ventilator, which can be helpful in regaining energy lost in exchange with outside air.

“One of the big things I got [out of the meeting] is ventilation issues in a building can often be a contributing factor to the level of radon exposure,” Braley said. “So school districts have to have resources to monitor ventilation systems.”

Rep. Chip Baltimore, R-Boone, said he doesn’t think the government is the solution for the issue.

Read the full article online: http://www.dailyiowan.com/2014/04/22/Metro/37608.html

User photo for: gmorcutt

I attended this meeting. It immediately became clear to me that these schools had only tested their preschool classrooms to comply with state law. They have not tested any other parts of the buildings. Yes, radon assessments are performed every two years but only in those preschool classrooms. I hope that teachers and parents don't assume that these buildings are totally below the action level.

Two of the buildings had HVAC problems. When these were fixed, radon levels went below 4 pCi/L. The third classroom was in a building about 70 years old. It was getting no outside air, so a new heating/cooling system was installed in the classroom, and the radon level became acceptable.

All three problems were reported to be solved for a total of $2000. What really bothered me was when one school official from the maintenance department declared that if the entire district were to be tested and mitigated where necessary, it would probably cost at least $100,000. He also said that it was his opinion that you could ascertain a building's radon status by only testing a few selected rooms and not every room in the building. I wanted to respond, but it wouldn't have been appropriate at that time.

User photo for: Gloria Linnertz

Perhaps an email or letter or visit to the gentleman would help. This link http://www.health.ri.gov/healthrisks/poisoning/radon/for/schoolspublicbuildingandchildcarecenters/
spells out some of the proper ways Rhode Island specifies testing for radon in schools would help.
Perhaps giving him a copy of the standards for testing schools and large buildings would help educate him.