The Iowa Senate has voted to require radon tests in schools and the installation of radon control systems in new buildings and new homes in Iowa, but some Republicans question the expense.
Senator Dick Dearden, a Democrat from Des Moines, said a close friend who “never smoked in her life” has just been diagnosed with lung cancer.
“The doctor had advised them to check the radon levels in their home and it was just off the charts,” Dearden said. “You know, this is important stuff. We need to vote yes on this.”
The bill that passed the Senate Wednesday would give schools a year to act to reduce radon levels if tests reveal problems, something Senator Tod Bowman of Maquoketa — a teacher and coach — applauded.
“The fact that I’ve been in a school for 24 years makes me a little nervous,” Bowman said. “When these tests are going to be done in our schools, I’m going to anxiously wait and hope that our school doesn’t need any mitigation.”
Senator Jack Whitver, a Republican from Ankeny, had planned to vote against the bill — until he checked with his local school district.
“They’re testing the new schools that are being built, but they’re doing nothing about the old schools,” Whitver said. “…I believe it’s important enough to our kids to err on the side of caution with this.”
But Senator Mark Chelgren, a Republican from Ottumwa, suggests private schools could face financial ruin if tests reveal high levels of radon and new systems to reduce radon levels must be installed.
“Many of these schools are strapped for money,” Chelgren said, “makes it very difficult for them to afford the mitigation and also continue to provide the excellent education that most of these private schools provide.”
Radon is a colorless, odorless gas that causes cancer. Senator Matt McCoy, a Democrat from Des Moines, said all schools should be testing for radon.
“I would not send my son into an environment where the equivalent of four cigarettes or five cigarettes a day were being smoked,” McCoy said, “but I found out that he, potentially, could be going in a school room and could be exposed to that on a daily basis.”
Experts say up to 70 percent of Iowa homes have harmful levels of radon. It costs about $300 to install a radon control system in a new home that’s under construction. Officials say about 400 Iowans die each year because they were exposed to high levels of radon.
The bill requiring radon tests in schools and the installation of radon control systems in new homes now goes to the Iowa House for consideration.
AUDIO of Senate debate of SF366.