The Iowa House has approved a bill that would require testing for radon gas in Iowa schools.
The legislation is named in honor of Gail Orcutt, a retired teacher who worked in Waterloo, Norwalk and Des Moines schools. Representative Ray Sorenson paid tribute to Orcutt during debate of the bill.
“She tirelessly advocated for this bill here at the Capitol, getting to know many of you,” Sorenson said. “Gail lost her battle with radon-induced lung cancer in 2020.”
Orcutt was not a smoker. Maria Steele, a nurse practitioner at the Iowa Digestive Disease Clinic in Clive, has become a leading advocate for the bill after being diagnosed with lung cancer.
“As much as I enjoy visiting with Maria…my hope is that we don’t get to know her as well as Gail,” Sorenson said, “as my hope is that this passes and we can save the lives of teachers and students of the future and that she can rest easy, knowing she’s carried on and accomplished Gail’s mission.”
Gail Orcutt began lobbying legislators a decade ago after discovering her home had dangerous levels of radon gas. Radon is an odorless gas that seeps into homes and buildings through cracks in the foundation. Sorenson noted every Iowa county is considered to have high levels of radon in the soil.
“An estimated 400 Iowans will die this year alone due to radon-induced lung cancer,” Sorenson said.
Orcutt had lobbied for radon testing and mitigation to be required in schools, which is what the bill that bears her name would do. It also calls for radon control systems in any new school construction. Previous attempts to accomplish those goals had been met with concerns about the cost. Orcutt had urged legislators to require that radon control systems be installed in all new construction in Iowa, including homes, but that is not included in the bill that passed the House.
The bill has to pass the Senate, too, before it would land on the governor’s desk.