Radon control measures for schools, homes clear Iowa Senate

Seven of 10 Iowa homes have radon levels above EPA-approved standard

Rod Boshart
Published: March 20 2013 | 1:06 pm - Updated: 28 March 2014 | 12:59 pm in

The Iowa Senate took steps Wednesday to protect school children and homebuyers from the harmful effects of radon gas.

Senators voted 37-13 to require public and private schools to test for radon gas and establish that the Iowa building code would include provisions for passive systems to protect newly constructed homes from radon exposure. Senate File 366, which now goes to the Iowa House, was opposed by 13 GOP senators who primarily objected to the new requirement on residential construction expected to add $300 to the cost of a new home.

Sen. Matt McCoy, D-Des Moines, the bill’s sponsor and chief supporter, noted that Iowa leads the nation in radon – a known preventable cause of lung cancer -- with seven of 10 homes having levels of the colorless, odorless radioactive gas above the federal EPA recommended levels.

Under the bill, schools would be required to test for radon by June 30, 2015, and take steps to mitigate high detected levels within a year of the initial results using local option sale tax or physical plant and equipment levy dollars to pay for the cost. McCoy said the state also was considering use infrastructure money to create a pool for radon mitigation to help cover mitigation costs that could range from $3,000 to $30,000 per school attendance center.

“This seems like a very logical move to make to prevent 400 senseless deaths in Iowa on an annual basis,” said McCoy, noting that radon-related deaths are comparable to the toll of lives lost in fatal traffic crashes.

Sen. Mark Chelgren, R-Ottumwa, voted for the bill but expressed concern the bill would create a cost of between $1 million and $2 million for private schools that could hurt their competitiveness and possibly their future survival.

Several Republicans spoke against requirements and standards for radon control in new residential construction contained in the bill and favored a free-market approach to allowing contractors to deal with radon concerns. However, proponents of the bill said that has not worked in a state that is “ground zero” for radon exposure with the nation’s highest exposure risk.

“Sometimes mandates are good because they make us to the right thing and this is the right thing to do,” McCoy said. “It will save lives.”

Also Wednesday, senators voted 41-9 to create a task force to prepare plans to develop a new statewide public safety facility that would train law enforcement officers, firefighters, emergency medical technicians and homeland security workers.

Sen. Steve Sodders­, D-State Center, said the task force would determine where the facility should be located, the cost and other details of the project.

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