radon in Iowa
Plans to require radon testing in schools statewide were sidelined this week by Republican lawmakers and school officials who worry positive tests would expose districts and the state to serious liability and expensive repairs.
Supporters of the Democratic-led legislation had strong criticism that the bill under consideration now only requires districts to report on whether they've conducted tests and have a plan to reduce radon if it's found.
"Saying we're not even going to look to see if there's a problem, I think, is a stunning dereliction of duty and I'm very disappointed in that," Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal, D-Council Bluffs, at a news conference Thursday. "If you're going to be responsible you should test and deal with the problems that testing reveals but putting our head in the sand just means more people will die of lung cancer."
An Iowa House turned legislation mandating schools test for radon gas, which is believed to be a leading cause of lung cancer, into a “toothless tiger” Wednesday, according to the bill’s Senate floor manager.
An amendment unanimously approved by the House Local Government Committee makes the bill “virtually meaningless,” Sen. Matt McCoy, D-Des Moines, said.
The amendment stripped provisions that would require schools to perform a short-term test for radon gas at each school by June 30, 2025, and at least once every 10 years thereafter. The Legislative Services Agency estimated that cost to be $1.9 million, which House floor manager Rep. Matt Windschitl, R-Missouri Valley, said was based on “educated guesses.”
McCoy’s bill, approved by the Senate 37-10 a year ago, also proscribed a course of remediation if the tests showed radon gas at or above four picocuries per liter and further testing.
Lawmakers in at least three states are combatting what public health experts call the “silent killer” — radon, an invisible, odorless gas that that seeps into buildings through cracked walls and foundations.
Bills filed in Iowa and Nebraska, and a proposal taking shape in Utah aim to reduce people’s exposure to the gas, the second-leading cause of lung cancer behind tobacco. Radon kills about 21,000 people each year, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
The state efforts come as health advocates push to bolster a patchwork of randon laws they say has raised public awareness but still comes up short, and as states fear federal help will face the budget axe.
“We’ve got to get smart about this preventable problem,” says Matt McCoy, an Iowa state senator. “Our hope is that more people will become aware of it and start testing.”
Des Moines, IA – Rep. Bruce Braley (IA-01) today joined members of the American Cancer Society and the Iowa-based Radon Coalition at the Iowa State Capitol to announce the renewal of a legislative effort to end the threat of radon gas in America’s schools.
Last September, Braley introduced the End Radon in Schools Act, legislation that will protect students, teachers, and school employees from dangerous levels of radiation in schools. Braley will re-introduce the legislation in the US House on Tuesday morning – the first bill Braley will introduce in the newly convened 113th Congress.
It's silent. It's invisible. It sneaks into homes, often through basements, and kills hundreds of Iowans each year. But it's not some mythical predator; it's a gas.
As uranium deposits in the soil breakdown, they produce radon. When inhaled, particles of the colorless, odorless, tasteless gas continue their radioactive decay, which can cause lung cancer and other health problems.
January is National Radon Action Month.
William Field, a University of Iowa Public Health professor who specializes in radon, said the gas is the leading environmental cause of cancer death in the United States.
"Most homes are not built radon resistant," Field said. "It can move into the home through cracks in the foundation."
Dr. Joseph Merchant, an oncologist with the McFarland Clinic and Marshalltown Medical & Surgical Center, said he has no doubt that many non-smokers who develop lung cancer do so because of radon exposure.
A two-year lung cancer survivor, Gail Orcutt has shared her story many times, with one unexpected detail — she’s never smoked. Her cancer was attributed to prolonged exposure to radon — a colorless, odorless, tasteless radioactive gas produced from the decay of naturally occurring uranium in the soil.
“Iowans are in so much danger, and they don’t know it,” Orcutt said. “This has got to be the most preventable type of cancer there is. No one should get lung cancer from radon.”
Orcutt was diagnosed in May 2010 after suffering a cough and wheeze believed to be from allergies. Secondhand smoke was one cause physicians considered until Orcutt read a magazine article about radon. That led her to test her Pleasant Hill home.
The results came back at 6.9 pCi/L. The Environmental Protection Agency recommends homes with levels above 4 install radon-mitigation systems. In Iowa, seven of 10 homes have levels above that — the highest in the U.S.
You send your children to school, assuming they will be reasonably safe. So, why is a middle school principal on a mission to warn all parents about a potential health hazard to Iowa students?
Steph Langstraat, Principal at Monroe Middle School in Prairie City is fighting back against radon, a potentially deadly chemical seeping up through the foundation of her school into classrooms and halls.
Monroe Middle School is not alone; Iowa has the highest uranium concentration in the nation. As uranium breaks-down, it releases radon gas that has potential to cause lung cancer. The gas rises up through an estimated 3/4 of the homes and building foundations in Iowa.
Kaye Ranger-Lefler was in perfect health until last fall, when episodes of lower back pain began regularly striking her a few hours after mealtime.
The pain became so intense the 65-year-old Sioux City woman could hardly eat. She lost weight and struggled to fall asleep while sitting up. It hurt too much to lie down in her bed.
When Ranger-Lefler was finally diagnosed with Stage Four lung cancer, over four months after her pain began, she was in shock.
How could a woman who had never smoked develop lung cancer?
A radioactive gas known as radon could be the answer.
Radon exposure is the second leading cause of lung cancer behind smoking and the leading cause of lung cancer in non-smokers.
The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that radon exposure causes 21,000 lung cancer deaths every year in the United States. About 2,900 of these deaths occur among people who have never smoked.
SIOUX CITY | A silent killer was in Frank and Diane Gruber's Morningside home.
They didn't know it until the house was tested for radon -- a colorless, odorless gas produced by the decay of uranium. It occurs naturally in soils, rock and water.
When radon enters buildings through foundation or basement cracks, it becomes trapped and accumulates in the lowest level, usually basements. Breathing in the radioactive gas at high levels over a long period can cause lung cancer.
The radon concentration in the Grubers' home was as high as 16 pCi/L, or picocuries per liter -- four times the level at which the Environmental Protection Agency recommends corrective action be taken. After testing with a digital radon detector, the Grubers installed a radon mitigation system, which removes the gas.
More Siouxland homeowners are testing for radon, said Michelle Clausen Rosendahl, director of Environmental Services for the Siouxland District Health Department.
CEDAR HILLS — From the moment you meet Valerie Scott, it's hard not to smile.
"Once you get on the course it's pretty. Like I golf!" she said, laughing. "I just look!"
On the kitchen counter beside her, sit pictures of her family: Four children, two still living at home, and a new grandbaby - her first.
"I'm 53, and I used to think that was old," she said. "Now I'm thinking that's really young, you know?"
Scott's love for her grandson is evident. Her children joke she replaced her favorite décor, leopard print, with something new. They call it baby.
"He is my life, and I think I just barely got here," Scott said. "I want to get to know him. I adore him. And then I think - you know, you let your brain go there — and you think, ‘The older he gets, the more he's going to miss me if I go.' And I hate thinking about that."