Bill requiring radon testing, mitigation in schools advances in Iowa House

Schools express concern about possible financial strain on struggling districts

Published: February 13 2014 | 3:40 pm - Updated: 29 March 2014 | 3:37 am in

DES MOINES -- Public school districts would be required to test buildings for radon and mitigate any high levels of radon gas discovered under legislation in the House.

The bill approved Thursday by a House Education subcommittee would require schools test their facilities for radon by 2025 and once every 10 years after or following any construction, renovations or repairs. If levels of the cancer-causing gas are found at or above four picocuries per liter, schools would have to conduct a second round of testing with a person certified to test and determine mitigation efforts to bring levels below EPA recommended levels.  The legislation allows Plant and Physical Equipment Levy funds be used for radon testing and mitigation.

Radon is a naturally occurring gas found in soil and Iowa is known to have high levels of the cancer-causing gas. Gail Orcutt, a retired teacher from Pleasant Hill and radon-induced lung cancer survivor said the bill addresses a serious problem that has a simple solution.

"We need to assure parents that their child are learning in a safe environment," the 60-year-old told lawmakers.

Cancer and medical associations have thrown their support behind House File 2152, however schools are concerned required radon testing and mitigation could place financial strain on struggling districts.

“Setting (schools) up with the potential for some pretty significant costs under a mandate situation makes us very nervous,” said Emily Piper, lobbyist with the Iowa Association of School Boards.

Piper said a survey among public schools showed the cost for short-term radon testing ranged from $700 to $4,500 per building, depending on building size.

The subcommittee also approved an amendment that Rep. Kevin Koester, R-Ankeny, said might help financially concerned districts. The amendment would establish a $5 million pool of money to be loaned to financially struggling districts for mitigation efforts at no-interest. Districts could receive loans up to $200,000 a year for mitigation equipment with an ultimate cap of $500,000.

“I hate that an issue comes down to money versus health,” said Rep. Ruth Ann Gaines, D- Des Moines. “I think the amendment would help if this actually passes."

A similar radon protection bill passed the Senate last year but wasn’t able to get through the House, Koester said because it lacked monetary support for cash-strapped schools.

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