April 20, 2014

Legislators debate requiring schools to test for radon

Legislators are wrestling with a new requirement that schools test for radon — the odorless, colorless gas that can cause lung cancer.

Bills that would require radon tests in every Iowa school building have cleared committees in both the House and Senate. Emily Piper, a lobbyist for the Iowa Association of School Boards, says school officials are worried about the bottom line.

“It is not about the need to do the testing and mitigation,” Piper says. “It’s about the cost and how we’re going to pay for that.”

Piper says the cost of a radon test depends upon the size of the building — and the cost can be as much as $4500 for just one building. A bill that cleared a House committee this week would require radon tests in schools, but give districts until 2025 to conduct those tests and make building improvements if there are unacceptably high levels of the gas.

The Iowa Senate passed a bill last year that would have required radon testing in schools and similar legislation has cleared a senate committee this week. Senator Tod Bowman, a Democrat from Maquoketa, is a teacher and coach who supports the radon testing requirement.

“And I’m a little weary of the concept of a constituent coming up and saying: ‘I went to school and it didn’t kill me,’” Bowman said during a hearing on the issue.

House members are considering the creation of a $5 million state fund that would give financially-struggling schools loans to not only pay for radon tests, but any building modifications needed to reduce elevated radon levels.

The American Cancer Society classifies radon as the second-leading cause of lung cancer. Radon is a natural radioactive gas found in the soil and the entire state of Iowa is considered at “high risk” for elevated levels of radon in homes and buildings.