A lung cancer survivor is urging state legislators to create a new tax break for Iowans who take steps to reduce or eliminate radon levels in their home. Gail Orcutt of Pleasant Hill was diagnosed with cancer in 2010.

“I’ve never smoked a day in my life and none of my physicians even suggested that radon might be the culprit,” Orcutt says. “I was home recovering from a left (thoracotomy), which means I had my entire left lung removed, and came across an article in a magazine that was titled, ‘Non-smokers and lung cancer,’ and it was all about radon.”

Orcutt’s home was tested and the radon levels were way too high.

“I didn’t even know about mitigation at first. I just panicked when we got our test results and I thought: ‘Oh, no! We’ve got to get out of this house — but who’s going to want to buy it?'” she says. “And then I found out it can be fixed and our radon level now is less than 0.3 (picocuries per liter)…so we’re very safe.”

Her family spent $1400 to seal any cracks in their home and install a fan-and-vent system that pumps the radon gas outside. It costs about $500 to make a newly constructed home “radon resistant”.

“Seven out of 10 homes in Iowa have a dangerous level of radon and if you’re like me you don’t know about it and hopefully you find out before you have to go through what I did, or worse,” Orcutt says. “Most people do not survive lung cancer.”

She’d like to see legislators grant a tax credit to others who shell out the money to make their own homes radon proof.

“It’s a home improvement, just like getting new windows or putting in a new furnace and those (improvements) get tax credits,” Orcutt says.

Orcutt was part of a contingent of American Cancer Society advocates who met with state legislators early Wednesday morning. Peggy Huppert, the American Cancer Society’s state director, said last year about 400 Iowans died of cancer than could be traced to radon exposure.

“Which is more than are killed in traffic accidents, so we know all about it,” Huppert said. “We know how to test for it. We know how to fix it and we feel like it’s time to focus some public attention on it.”

Radon is an odorless, colorless gas that is caused by the natural decay of uranium in soil. Radon is now considered the second-leading cause of lung cancer.