October 31, 2014

Cornell student runs to raise money to help cancer patients

A college student in eastern Iowa is putting himself through a grueling workout in an effort to help cancer patients. Jacob Fields is running a mile for every dollar he collects from donations. So far, he’s raised over $550 and has been running about 25 miles a day since late last month. It’s hard work, but Fields says his family provides motivation.

Both his mother and grandmother have been diagnosed with different types of cancer. “It’s definitely a lot (of pain), but compared what my mom went through and what my grandmother is going through now, it’s nothing,” Fields said. The senior at Cornell College in Mount Vernon has set a goal of running 1,000 miles and raising $1,000.

The money will go to the American Cancer Society for cancer research. “My friends have given me 10 dollars here, a dollar here,” Field said. “They’re like, ‘here’s five bucks, go run five miles.'” Fields started late last month and has lost more than 10 pounds, worn through a pair of shoes, and used up five tubes of lip balm. Fields is running in conjunction with Cornell’s Relay for Life, which starts Saturday, April 26.

(Reporting by Forest Saunders, KCRG-TV, Cedar Rapids)

Bill seeks survey to find out about radon in school buildings

The Iowa Senate has given final legislative approval to a bill that calls for a survey of Iowa schools to see if buildings are being tested for radon contamination. Senator Matt McCoy, a Democrat from Des Moines, says Iowa has the highest concentration of the cancer-causing gas of any state in the nation.

“Data indicates that five out of seven homes have elevated radon levels in Iowa, so we’re leading the nation in levels of unsafe radon gas in our homes,” McCoy says. “It stands to reason that our school buildings are in the same kind of condition as our homes.”

McCoy has been pressing for legislation that would require schools to test for radon and take steps to rid buildings of any unsafe levels of the gas, but House Republicans balked, citing the costs districts would face if tests found unacceptably high levels of radon in school buildings.

“We’re going to be back working on this issue next year and hopefully next year we’ll be able to do the right thing,” McCoy says.

The bill calling for a survey of school districts to find out which have tested buildings for radon now goes to the governor for his approval or veto.

Gronstal says House panel guilty of ‘stunning dereliction of duty’ on radon-related bill

Senator Mike Gronstal.

Senator Mike Gronstal.

The top Democrat in the legislature is blasting a group of Republicans for abandoning an effort to get Iowa school buildings tested for radon.

Last week the Iowa Senate passed a bill that required districts to have school buildings tested by 2025, but a House committee this week changed the bill so it only requires the Department of Education to survey schools to find out if radon tests are being done.  Senate Democratic Leader Mike Gronstal of Council Bluffs calls that a “disappointing” development.

“Radon is from bedrock. Iowa as a state, just by luck of the draw (with) deep soil depths, is a perfect place to collect radon in basements,” Gronstal says. “That’s just a reality of nature and putting our head in the sand about it and saying, ‘We’re not even going to look to see if there’s a problem,’ I think is a stunning dereliction of duty.”

School officials say there’s no room in school budgets for the equipment needed to rid schools of radon if tests show there are unacceptably high levels. House Republicans working on the issue side with the schools and argue the new survey would find out if schools need more money from the state to buy the equipment that reduces radon levels. Senator Gronstal says schools should “at least” test for radon.

“This state is the worst in the country, just by the luck of the draw, in terms of the amount of radon that leaks into buildings,” Gronstal says. “If you’re going to be responsible, you should test, then deal with the problems that test reveals, but putting your head in the sand just means more people will die of lung cancer.”

Gronstal says the radon-related bill, although altered, at least survived the legislature’s deadline this week for policy-related bills, so discussions on the issue can continue. House Speaker Kraig Paulsen of Hiawatha, the legislature’s top Republicans, told reporters today he doesn’t know what debate the House committee had about the issue.

Lung still top killer among cancers in Iowa

An annual report released by the University of Iowa estimates 6,400 Iowans will die from cancer this year and 17,400 residents will be diagnosed with some type of cancer. Charles Lynch is medical director of the State Health Registry of Iowa and a professor of epidemiology at the U-I College of Public Health.

He says the numbers are similar to those reported in recent years. “But, they are indicative of a declining age adjusted rate of cancer in the state because cancer is primarily a disease of older people and our population continues to age in the state of Iowa,” Lynch said. “So, our numbers are staying stable when we should be seeing even more cases.”

Lung cancer remains the top cancer killer of Iowans. “It accounts for about one out of every four cancer deaths in Iowa,” Lynch said. “The number of lung cancer deaths exceeds female breast, prostate, and colorectal cancers combined,” Lynch said. The “Cancer in Iowa: 2014” report released today features a section focused on HPV or human papillomavirus-related cancers.

HPV is a common sexually transmitted infection. “The reason we’re emphasizing it this year is because there has been a vaccine developed, it’s been available since 2006, but it’s been under-utilized in Iowa and across the nation,” Lynch said. “There’s a push right now to get more people vaccinated and preferably we’d like to get them vaccinated before they become exposed to the HPV virus.”

Lynch recommends 11 and 12 year old children get the vaccine, but the FDA has approved the vaccine for individuals up to the age of 26.

Bill to require radon testing in Iowa schools clears senate

A bill that would require Iowa school buildings to be tested for radon has cleared the Iowa Senate. The legislation does not require school officials to fix buildings where unacceptable levels of radon gas are discovered, however, and that is “shameful” acording to Senator Matt McCoy, a Democrat from Des Moines.

“I will support for this bill. It is a warm bucket of spit,” McCoy said. “I’m not happy about it. It is weak. It is sad, but it is the best we’re going to get and I urge the rest of you to plug your nose and support this bill.”

Senator Tod Bowman, a Democrat from Maquoketa, cited the old adage that making legislation is like making sausage.

“It’s not warm spit. It’s sausage,” Bowman said. “And while some don’t see it as perfect, I see it as a great first step.”

If the bill becomes law, school districts would be required to report the results of radon tests to the Iowa Department of Education. Supporters say that will help define the problem. The bill passed on a 35-14 vote. It now goes to the House for consideration.  Senators passed a bill last year that would have required radon testing in schools, but that bill died in a House subcommittee. Critics say schools would face significant costs if tests reveal high levels of radon in school buildings.

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.