Skip top navigation

radon in Iowa

Iowa Lacks Guidelines to Track Radon in Schools

Iowa Lacks Guidelines to Track Radon in Schools

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa - Look both ways before you cross the street. Tell a teacher if someone bullies you. Sit quietly while you ride the bus. There’s a long list of warnings out there to help kids protect themselves from potential school dangers.

One that is far less common is, “Be careful, you might be inhaling radon.” After all, how do you protect people from something that has no smell, color or taste?

“It’s a gas that’s going to take the route of least resistance,” said Dr. Chuck Lynch, a professor in the department of epidemiology in the University of Iowa’s College of Public Health.

The Environmental Protection Agency has classified all 99 of Iowa’s counties in Zone 1, meaning they have the highest potential for indoor radon concentrations above 4 picocuries per liter, even though the agency maintains that “there is no known safe level of exposure to radon.”

Braley Proposes Radon Mitigation, Testing Bill

State and local officials applauded a bill introduced by an Iowa congressman Thursday aimed at detecting and ending the present problem of radon exposure in Iowa schools.

Rep. Bruce Braley, D-Iowa, introduced the End Radon in Schools Act Thursday. The bill, if passed, would “protect students, teachers, and school employees from high levels of radon in schools,” according to a press release from Braley’s office.

“We need to ensure that our schools are safe from unacceptable levels of this harmful gas,” he said in the press release. “You cannot see, taste, or smell radon, but it poses a real risk to Iowans. Iowa has one of the highest levels of radon radiation in the country, and I introduced this legislation to ensure that Iowa kids, teachers, and employees are safe from harmful levels of radon when they go to school.”

Radon is an odorless and tasteless gas that is produced by the decaying of uranium that occurs naturally in both water and soil.

Tripoli Couple Hopes to Raise Awareness of Radon Risk

Tripoli Couple Hopes to Raise Awareness of Radon Risk

Radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer. What's frightening, the gas can't be seen or smelled. It's found naturally in the soil, and makes its way into homes.

The good news--there's a way to get rid of radon before it becomes a problem. We caught up with a local couple affected by radon, who hope their story might help others.

Duane Buchholz knows he's lucky to be alive, after being diagnosed with stage four lung cancer last year.

"His prognosis was not very good," said Lavera Buchholz, Duane's wife.

When Duane was first diagnosed, it was quite a shock, especially since he's never been a smoker. But doctors had a good idea of what might have caused his cancer.

"They said, 'Well have you ever check your house for radon? That's the second leading cause of lung cancer,'" Duane Buchholz said.

Concern Over Radon in Iowa Sparks Discussion

When one soars above the Flyover State, a colorful patchwork of cornfields expands below. A closer look at the bucolic landscape reveals flourishing gardens filled with flowers and fresh produce.

Crisp, fresh streams can be heard trickling through the pastures. But these serene observations of Iowa miss one integral element — something that can't be seen, smelled, or heard.

The state's invisible and odorless presence is the radioactive gas radon — which experts estimate is responsible for causing 400 lung-cancer-related deaths across the state each year.

On a bigger scale, radon is a leading environmental carcinogen and second most common cause of lung cancer in the nation, behind tobacco use.

These numbers have caught the attention of environmental and public-health advocates throughout the state who are determined to educate, inform, and push for legislation related to radon safety.

Cancer-Causing Radon Escapes from Legislative Attention

Cancer-Causing Radon Escapes from Legislative Attention

Radon, typically found in the basement of a house, kills 400 Iowans a year, but the state health department cannot carry out a state law designed to help protect residents from the deadly gas because it doesn’t have any staff to do so.

Hundreds of radon mitigation systems that are supposed to funnel toxic gas out of basements are not getting tested and could be defective.

Classified as a class A carcinogen like arsenic and asbestos, the colorless and odorless gas causes lung cancer when radon decay particles attach to dust and are breathed into the lungs and damage the DNA, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

“The law says we’re supposed to do inspections but we can’t because we don’t have the funds to do it,” said Rick Welke, radon program manager at the Iowa Department of Public Health. “There’s people installing 200 systems a year, and they’ve never been inspected.”