More than 35 years after studies first linked radon to lung cancer, researchers and public health officials are urging new legislation to prevent an estimated 3000 Canadians from dying every year after exposure to the radioactive gas.
Radon is the second-leading cause of lung cancer, after smoking, accounting for about 16% of lung cancer deaths annually, reports the Canadian Cancer Society.
Radon is a naturally occurring by-product of uranium that can seep into any building from the soil. Radon cannot be seen, tasted or smelled. The carcinogen may accumulate in any home — regardless of a region's geographic risk — particularly in basements and crawl spaces that have not been properly ventilated.
DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) - Builders in Iowa would be required to install radon mitigation systems in new homes under legislation that has won approval in an Iowa Senate committee.
The bill moved out of the State Government Committee on Wednesday. Under the proposal, new homes must be built with radon mitigation pipes. If the homeowner discovers radon, they can add a fan to use the system.
Radon is a colorless, odorless gas that can leak through cracks in building foundations. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency calls radon the second-leading cause of lung cancer in the U.S. The agency also says Iowa's 99 counties are in the agency's highest risk zone for exposure.
A similar bill was approved by the Democratic-majority Senate two years ago but failed to advance in the Republican-controlled House.
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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.
Downers Grove is updating its building code to include new state rules aimed at reducing radon in new construction.
The Village Council recently approved a mandate that all new residences in town must be built with "passive radon resistant construction," in line with a state law passed in June.
Community Development Director Tom Dabareiner said the law was enacted in response to the growing consensus that radon poses significant health risks. The council approved the measure at its April 1 meeting with all in attendance voting in favor. Commissioners Sean P. Durkin and Geoff Neustadt were absent.
"There's a large portion of the state where there is a significant amount of radon that's found in the soil and then a couple of areas where it's medium," Dabareiner said.
With five years to get ready for this deadline, regulators should have been better prepared.
Laws don’t work unless most people comply with them voluntarily. This compliance is helped along by the understanding that violations of the law will be enforced and that the penalties are appropriate.
So, it’s good news that many landlords are trying to follow the law that requires them to test for radon in all buildings with rental units. But it’s not so good to find out that the state has no database of rental properties to know which ones are out of compliance, and that it’s still unclear what agencies will enforce the penalties. It is also not much comfort for tenants to find out that if their apartment is contaminated with radon, they’ll still have to sue the landlord to force remediation.
Weeks before the deadline for landlords and property owners to test rental units for radon, hundreds were calling the state office in charge of the program every day asking about how to test.
It’s two weeks past the deadline, and the calls are still coming in.
“We’re getting thousands and thousands and thousands of people trying to comply with the law at the same time,” said Bob Stilwell, head of the radon program for the state.
Lawmakers in 2011 pushed the deadline for testing the air, and the water if from private wells, in all residential rental buildings for radon from 2012 to March 1 of this year. The law, originally passed in 2009, was changed further last year to ease mitigation requirements for high levels of radon — a colorless, odorless gas that is the second-leading cause of lung cancer, after smoking.
A scaled-back bill regarding radon testing in Iowa schools passed the whole Iowa House on Tuesday , setting up negotiations between the House and Senate over the issue.
The House has completely rewritten Senate File 366 to direct the state Department of Education to encourage school districts to test for the presence of cancer-causing radon gas in school buildings and to address high concentrations. The bill contains no actual mandate for districts to perform the testing, though, and only requires school officials to notify the department if they have a radon testing and mitigation plan in place or if they plan to adopt such a plan in the future.
Information received by the department will be turned over to the Legislature.
It passed on a 98-1 vote.
Bill sponsor Matt Windschitl, R-Missouri Valley said he’s received a positive response from school superintendents.
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."
Effective March 1, 2014, all landlords and those acting on behalf of landlords shall have residential rental units tested for the presence of radon. A state law, passed on June 21, 2013, mandates the immediate testing of all residential rental buildings that have not had radon mitigation systems installed, and requires subsequent testing to be performed every 10 years thereafter when requested by a tenant.
Before a new tenant enters into a lease or tenancy at will agreement, or pays a deposit to rent or lease a property, a landlord shall provide written notice, as prescribed by the Department of Health and Human Services, to a tenant regarding the presence of radon in the building, including the date and results of the most recent test, whether mitigation has been performed, as well as notice that the tenant has the right to conduct a test.
Charlie McQuinn didn’t think much about the cracks in the basement floor of his Cottonwood Heights home, where he maintains his office downstairs.
But that was before his doctors found a three-inch tumor in the lower lobe of the non-smoker’s left lung two years ago. The culprit turned out to be radon that had accumulated in his home.
"The dryer creates a vacuum that draws the gas up through the cracks," McQuinn told a Senate committee last month in support of SB109, a bill that would establish a $100,000 statewide radon awareness campaign.
Senators unanimously passed SB109, and a House committee gave its OK Thursday, sending it to the full House.
The one-time state appropriation would replace disappearing federal funding.
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