The Gazette Editorial Board
We don’t know how many of Iowa’s schoolchildren spend their school days breathing radon. But every county in Iowa has been identified by the Environmental Protection Agency as having a high potential for high concentrations of radon indoors. The Iowa Department of Public Health estimates that up to 70 percent of homes in Iowa have elevated radon levels.
State law requires that child care facilities test for radon every other year, but there is no mandated testing or mitigation for K-12 schools even though students and teachers spend years in the same building.
That should change.
Radon is a radioactive gas produced as glacial deposits of uranium and radium in our soil break down over time.
It’s odorless and invisible, seeping into homes and other buildings through cracked foundations, floors and walls, openings around floor drains and pipes, crawl spaces or hollow-block walls. Long-term exposure to radon is second only to smoking as a cause of lung cancer. Health experts estimate that long-term exposure to radon causes about 400 deaths in Iowa each year.
Regular radon testing of public school buildings can be $500 or more per test and up to $30,000 for mitigating a school building. Cost is why the Iowa Association of School Boards has opposed the idea of mandatory testing in the past.
But identifying buildings with high concentrations of radon and mitigating major threats is worth the expense.
We recognize that most districts aren’t well positioned to assume those costs, so lawmakers and school leaders should look for creative solutions to fund radon testing. Rep. Bruce Braley, D-Iowa, with input from the American Cancer Society and the Radon Coalition, proposes grant funding for states to help school districts cover the cost of testing and mitigation. But given the federal government’s financial distress, Iowa likely can move faster on its own and should.
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