Iowans sounded off on a range of issues under discussion by lawmakers this year for The Des Moines Register’s latest Iowa Poll, revealing widely shared views on several matters. Substantial majorities, for instance, support enhanced enforcement of the state’s ban on texting while driving and favor expanded access to state-funded preschool. Iowans are more divided about ending dog racing at casinos in the state.
RESULTS: Seventy-one percent of Iowans favor requiring schools to test for radon and take steps to reduce it if necessary.
ISSUE: Radon, a radioactive gas that occurs naturally in soil, is believed to be the No.2 cause of lung cancer behind smoking. Lawmakers are considering requiring school districts to test their buildings for the gas and to take action to reduce levels in structures with high concentrations.
If you rent an apartment or house, you should hear from your landlord by the end of March about the results of a radon test for the air in your home.
But don’t hold your breath.
A state law first passed in 2009 requires the air, and the water if from private wells, in all residential rental buildings to be tested for radon — the colorless, odorless gas that is the second-leading cause of lung cancer after smoking. The law originally required the testing to be completed by 2012, but a change in 2011 pushed the deadline back to March 1 of this year. The law was amended further last year to ease mitigation requirements.
It’s clear, however, that many landlords and property owners waited until the last couple of months to conduct the tests, according the head of the state radon program and testers and laboratories registered with the state. Others still might not be aware of the requirement.
Public school districts would be required to test buildings for radon and mitigate any high levels under pending House legislation.
The bill approved Thursday by a House Education subcommittee would require schools test their facilities for radon by 2025 and once every 10 years after or following any construction, renovations or repairs.
If levels of the cancer-causing gas are found at or above 4 picocuries per liter, schools would have to conduct a second round of testing with a person certified to test and determine mitigation efforts to bring levels below EPA recommended levels. The legislation allows plant and physical equipment levy funds to be used for radon testing and mitigation.
Radon is a naturally occurring gas found in soil, and Iowa is known to have high levels of the gas. Gail Orcutt, 60, a retired teacher from Pleasant Hill and radon-induced lung cancer survivor, said the bill addresses a serious problem that has a simple solution.
“I thought I was surely going to die … panic set in.”
These are the words of Dennie Edwards, written in 2008, shortly before he passed away after a four-year battle with radon-linked lung cancer. Edwards is one of the more than 21,000 Americans who die every year from the disease — caused by an invisible, odorless killer.
Barb Sorgatz, 60, was far luckier. Her lung cancer was caught extremely early. Still, as a never-smoker, the news floored her.
“It was a shock. I was just shocked. I couldn’t believe it,” she told weather.com of her 2006 diagnosis. “I said, ‘What am I going to do?’"
January is National Radon Action Month. The gas, also known as the silent killer, is found in high concentrations in some parts of the Piedmont Triad.
According to the EPA, radon is the leading cause of lung cancer deaths among nonsmokers in the U.S. and claims the lives of about 21,000 Americans each year.
Jen Hames, the health education supervisor at the Davidson County Health Department, explains why some parts of the state have higher concentrations of radon.
“Radon is a naturally occurring gas, but it is in the rocks and soil, and to some degree it may be in the ground water as well, so any part of the state that has a lot of rocky areas is going to have a higher level of radon. There are about 20 counties that are considered to have a higher level in the state and Davidson County is one of them,” says Hames.
Some of the highest levels of radon in the state can be found in Rockingham, Alleghany and Watauga counties.
Sealing up houses to improve energy efficiency also traps more radon inside and may lead to a higher risk of lung cancer, according to a new study based on modeling.
Guidelines suggest people install ventilation systems when they try to reduce heat loss from their homes.
Many energy efficiency measures, like putting draft strips along doorframes, reduce air exchange, study author Paul Wilkinson said.
"Moreover, even where trickle vents (small vents in windows or bricks) are fitted, a proportion will not be used or will be left closed," said Wilkinson, from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.
Radon, a gas produced from naturally occurring uranium in soil and water, is known to increase the risk of lung cancer. It is present in many homes in varying amounts.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates radon contributes to about 21,000 lung cancer deaths each year, mostly among people who smoke.
Radon wasn't always a household word - and for some, it still isn't, although it should be.
Better not to wind up like Stanley and Diane Watras.
In 1984, before anyone knew that the radioactive gas could make its way into homes, and that parts of Pennsylvania and New Jersey are radon hot spots, Watras set off radiation alarms when he reported for work at the Limerick nuclear power plant, then under construction.
Subsequent investigation focused on his home in Boyertown, Berks County, where technicians found the highest radon levels they had yet seen in the United States - about 675 times the maximum level permitted in a uranium mine.
In a way, he was lucky. He was alerted to a problem he hadn't known he had.
Officials began testing more homes, and household radon testing became a national campaign that continues to this day.
Radon is a colorless, odorless, radioactive gas that forms during the breakdown of naturally occurring uranium in soils and rocks.
January is national radon awareness month. If you do nothing else, at least take a look at the map of radon risk zones above. If your home is in an area shaded red or orange, you may be especially at risk.
What is radon?
Radon is an invisible, odorless gas that can cause lung cancer. Although radon may be released from building materials, in most cases the source is natural radon found in the soils and rock on which your home is built. A house can act like a chimney: warm air rising inside causes a negative pressure in basements or at the slab level. This negative pressure can suck in gases, including radon.
How much radon is dangerous?
About 450 Port Hope homeowners have had their soil sampled and properties tested for radon and gamma radiation in the first phase of the biggest radioactive cleanup in Canadian history.
Some 1.2 million cubic metres of contaminated soil — enough for 500 Olympic-size pools — will be entombed in a storage facility. A waste-water treatment plant at the site is close to completion, said Judy Herod of Port Hope Area Initiative, the agency in charge of the cleanup.
“We are still on schedule to complete (cleanup) by 2022,” she said.
The 450-plus homeowners whose properties were tested have yet to receive the results. Radon gas levels were measured inside their homes while bore hole drilling outside yielded soil samples.
More than 5,000 private and public properties will undergo such testing to identify places which need remediation, said Herod.
January is Radon Awareness Month, and the Montana Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) is urging Montanans to protect their health by testing their homes for radon gas.
Radon is an invisible, odorless gas that occurs naturally from the decay of uranium and radium in many Montana soils and can accumulate inside homes. Studies indicate elevated levels of the gas are the second leading cause of lung cancer overall. Nationally, more than 22,000 people each year die from lung cancer linked to exposure to radon.
In Montana, historic radon testing shows that radon gas is present in varying levels in homes throughout the state. The amount of radon depends largely on the underlying geology of the area. Radon is measured in picocuries per liter (pCi/L). The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) identifies 4.0 pCi/L as the "action level" for radon.