August 27, 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.

Tanning bed ban for teens clears senate committee

A tanning-bed ban for teens that had been controversial in years’ past has made it beyond a key legislative deadline and is no longer drawing opposition from the industry. Joseph Levy, the scientific advisor for the American Suntanning Association, was at the statehouse this week as a bill to prohibit minors from using commercial tanning beds passed a senate committee.

“We’re supporting it because we believe we need to move to a higher level discussion on the nuances of the sun care message,” Levy says.

A similar bill was discussed last year by three senators who heard Ames dermatologist Leslie Christenson say the ultraviolet rays from tanning beds are “a known carcinogen.”

“Right up there with tobacco and asbestos,” Christenson said during a subcommittee meeting a year ago. “…We’re a bit behind in how we’re regulating these.”

The industry disputes that. Levy says 17 percent of smokers get lung cancer, while the risk of getting melanoma is 0.3 percent for tanning bed users.

“There are many proponents in the literature today of getting UV exposure…in a moderate, non-burning fashion,” Levy says.

Critics like the association for Iowa dermatologists disagree. Those doctors call tanning beds “dangerous” and say indoor tanning increases skin cancer risk by 75 percent. The latest statistics indicate nearly 30 percent of the U.S. population has used a tanning bed at one point in their life and Levy says about two percent of the clients who use tanning facilities are minors.

“UV is the body’s natural way to make vitamin D,” Levy says. “There are many people who tan for that reason.”

According to the association for Iowa dermatologists, “just one indoor tanning session increases users’ chances of developing melanoma by 20 percent.” The bill which bans minors from businesses that rent tanning bed time is now ready for debate in the Iowa Senate.

House votes to ban e-cigarette sales to minors

The Iowa House has voted to ban the sale of “e-cigarettes” to minors. Representative Chip Baltimore, a Republican from Boone, calls them “alternative nicotine products.”

“These products, thanks to technological innovation, take the carcinogenic smoke out of the equation,” Baltimore said. “…Because nicotine may be addictive for some, then it’s appropriate to keep it out of the hands of children. That’s what this bill does.”

Critics suggest the bill is a backdoor bid to ensure e-cigarettes are not classified as a tobacco proeduct and therefore are not subject to state taxes or under the jurisdiction of the state’s Clean Air Act. Representative Tyler Olson, a Democrat from Cedar Rapids, also suggested minors would be able to buy e-cigarettes that don’t contain nicotine, even if the bill becomes law.

“I want to make sure that all e-cigarettes, whether they have nicotine or don’t, are kept out of the hands of minors,” Olson said. “The non-nicotine e-cigarettes come in flavors…cherry, grape and others. Those are clearly intended to be marketed to minors.”

The bill — without any of the changes critics sought — passed on a 76 to 22 vote and goes to the senate for consideration.

Parole board says woman serving life can move to hospice (Audio)

Darcy Olson testifies at Kristina Fetter's parole hearing.

Darcy Olson testifies at Kristina Fetter’s parole hearing.

The Iowa Board of Parole today agreed to grant parole to an inmate who was sentenced to life in prison for first-degree murder at the age of 15. Kristina Fetters, who is now 33, was convicted in the 1995 death of her great aunt, Arlene Klehm, in Des Moines.

Fetters is dying of cancer. Most of the victim’s family has supported Fetters’ parole to a hospice facility. Her aunt, Darcy Olson of Des Moines, was the only person to speak at today’s parole board meeting. “No one can alter the past. It is what it is, this happened to our family and it’s now time for my family to have closure,” Olson said. “Kristina’s impending death cannot be denied and while there have been negative comments, we believe, as the victims, our family has suffered enough and we ask the parole board to grant our request.”

In September, doctors in Iowa City diagnosed Fetters with Stage 4 inoperable breast cancer. In November, a Polk County judge resentenced Fetters to a life sentence with the possibility for parole. Parole board member Doris Kelly of Waterloo called for Fetters’ parole, but only under the condition that she remain in a hospice facility.

“I do not see her as a public safety risk,” Kelly said. “The crime that she committed was a terrible crime, but she has been resentenced…so, I would be supportive of a parole to hospice only, with many conditions. In other words, she is not to leave hospice.”

Parole board member Thomas Phillips of Waukee supported Fetters’ parole as well, noting that the board could revisit the case if Fetters’ condition would improve.

“Should things change miraculously or whatever, the Board of Parole would reassess…so, I do not see this necessarily being the final vote that the board would take,” Phillips said.

In recent days, doctors have reported Fetters has shown some improvement, but Olson doubts Fetters will ever fully recover. “As someone who has lost a very important person in my life to cancer, I’ve seen people rally for just a short period of time and that’s what I think will happen in this case,” Olson said.

A spokesperson for the Iowa Department of Corrections said the board’s decision means Fetters will likely be paroled and sent to Hospice Care of Central Iowa within two weeks. Olson said Fetters’ mother and the rest of her family are relieved with the decision, but there’s little cause for celebration. “It’s just so bitter sweet,” Olson said. “This has been a 19 year old tragedy for my family. This will bring closure for my whole family and help us all cope just a little bit better with the situation. I’m grateful that my sister (Fetters’ mother) will be able to spend this time with her.”

Board of Parole Chairman Jason Carlstrom said only two letters were received from Iowans who were against Fetters’ parole. He said there were “quite a few” letters in support of her parole.

Audio: Parole Board discussion on Fetters. 16:43.

Governor dons pink tie to mark Breast Cancer Awareness Month

Gov-tie-1Governor Terry Branstad on Thursday signed a proclaimation declaring the month of October as Breast Cancer Awareness month.

Representatives of groups like the American Cancer Society were on hand to watch Branstad sign the proclamation, then one of them handed the governor a pink tie.

“Wear that and think of the fight against breast cancer throughout the state,” said Roger Dahl of the Susan G. Komen Foundation.

One of the women told Branstad “real men wear pink.” Branstad replied: “You know something? I’ll change ties, right here.”

Standing behind the massive desk in his formal office, Branstad shed his tie and started tying the pink one around his neck. “It goes with my shirt, I Gov-tie-3think,” Branstad quipped.

The governor lamented the lack of a mirror, but finished his windsor knot in less than a minute. It took Branstad more than twice as long to read the proclamation about Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

He began with sobering statistics.”It is estimated that 33,000 women in Iowa are living with a diagnosis of breast cancer,” Branstad said.

The American Cancer Society’s Lorrie Graaf said her group and others are focused on a single goal: “To decrease the number of women who die of breast cancer by increasing the number of women who are scanned by mamograms.”

Gov-tie-4One out of eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer at sometime in their lifetime. But with early detection and advances in treatment, there’s now a 99 percent five-year survival rate when the breast cancer is localized.

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month

A hospital in Cedar Rapids is bathed in pink lights at night, the Drake University women’s soccer team will host a “Pink Night” at its match tonight, and pink ribbons adorn many Iowans’ lapels.

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month and Chuck Reed, at the American Cancer Society’s Des Moines chapter, says the disease is a killer, but it doesn’t have to be.  “In Iowa this year, more than 2,300 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer, roughly 400 women will die from breast cancer,” Reed says. “One woman every four hours of every day hears those words, ‘You have breast cancer.’”

Promotions across the state this month are designed to urge women to get regular mamograms and checkups. “The five-year survival rate for breast cancer is about 90%,” Reed says. “If you stay on top of your breast health, talk to your doctor, get your screenings and do all the things you’re supposed to do, you don’t have to be one of those 400 women who will die from breast cancer in Iowa this year.”

For women who may need financial help in getting screenings, he suggest the “Iowa Care For Yourself” program through the Iowa Department of Public Health. For details, visit:

(Reporting by Pat Powers, KQWC, Webster City)

Early detection of prostate cancer is key in survival

The odds say if an Iowa man is going to get cancer, it’ll be in the prostate gland, but that’s also one of the easiest cancers to beat — if found early. This is Prostate Cancer Awareness Month and Chuck Reed, with the Iowa chapter of the American Cancer Society, says men of at least 50 need to get routine prostate checkups.

 “It is the most common cancer in American men and yet the five-year survival rate for prostate cancer approaches 100%,” Reed says. “It’s one of those things where it’s in our make-up, the way we’re built, it’s very common yet very, very treatable.”

Studies estimate more than 2,000 Iowa men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer this year, while 350 of them will die from it.  “And nationally,” Reed says, “that number is close to 30,000, so it does affect a lot of people and if not caught early, those numbers can grow.”

About two-thirds of prostate cancer cases occur in men ages 65 and up, while it can strike men earlier, too. “Ninety-seven percent of prostate cancer cases are in men 50 and older,” Reed says. “It usually affects a man later in life, but if you’re about 50 and you haven’t talked to your doctor about prostate cancer, it’s time to go in and have that conversation.” Reed said problems with prostate cancer include the fact early prostate cancer usually has no symptoms and the only well-established risk factors are: increasing age, African ancestry and a family history of the disease.

Learn more at:

(Reporting by  Pat Powers, KQWC, Webster City)