Congressman Bruce Braley is introducing legislation in the U.S. House that would provide federal grants to test for the presence of dangerous levels of radon gas in schools, as well as grants to cover steps schools might take to reduce radon levels. The money would be reserved for high-risk areas — and Iowa is the state where the highest levels of radon exist.
“The thing that I think we, as adults, need to focus on is our kids shouldn’t be worried about the level of radon gas in their schools,” Braley says. “They should trust us to do the right thing and pass public policies that are going to protect them so they don’t have to worry about those issues.”
Radon is an odorless, colorless gas — and it’s the second-leading cause of lung cancer. Gail Orcutt, a lung cancer survivor, is a retired teacher who never smoked and discovered dangerous levels of radon in her home in Pleasant Hill.
“As I think back on my teaching career that included eight different school buildings throughout the state, I’ve often wondered if I was exposed to radon while I was at school,” Orcutt says. “There is no way to know this since our schools are not required to test.”
Thirty-three-year-old Stephanie Langstraad, the principal at Prairie City Middle School, is undergoing treatment for lung cancer.
“How in the world did I get this diagnosis and why? And the first thing that came out of the doctors mouths were possible radon exposure and I thought from the very beginning: ‘What can I do to make a positive impact,’” Langstraad says, “‘so that people wouldn’t have to experience what I’m going through now?’”
Tests in her school building found radon and, while the radon wasn’t at high levels, officials in the district installed a mitigation system.
“I go to work every day, when I’m able to, knowing that my students are breathing safe air and that’s what they deserve, more than anything, when they’re in my care,” she says. “They spend eight hours a day in the same building, for years, and that’s a scary thought to wonder what they’re breathing.”
Braley, a Democrat from Waterloo, says he hopes to work with Republicans from other states where radon levels are high to advance his proposal in the U.S. House. This is the second straight year Braley has held a news conference at the statehouse in Des Moines on the opening day of the Iowa legislature. Reporters asked Braley if it’s because he’s planning a run for governor.
“There’s nothing to talk about,” Braley replied. “…People are tired of politics in this state. It’s the beginning of a new day in the legislature. A lot of people are focused on the future and they’ll be plenty of time for talking about that later.”
Braley’s “End Radon in Schools Act” will be the first bill he introduces in the new congress. Braley introduced identical legislation this past September, but it died when the last congress ended the first week of January.