Gail Orcutt, Radon induced
lung cancer survivor
A meeting was held Tuesday Night at the TSB Meeting Room in Forest City and the guest speaker was Gail Orcutt, a Radon induced lung cancer survivor, who addressed the audience on the dangers of Radon in the home and place of work. She began the meeting by saying that Radon is a radioactive gas that is colorless, odorless, and tasteless. It originates from the soil where natural decay of uranium is taking place. It is decaying in the soil and permeates through cracks, around pipes or open conduit openings, through sump pumps and drain tiles, between floor and wall joints in a basement and even from negative pressure drawing the gas into the home. For example, if you have a gas water heater or furnace, the unit wll draw from air in the room of the basement creating a negative pressure and forcing the basement to draw in air from other sources like the floor drains, sump pump pits, or air from upstairs. It is the air that comes from cracks in the foundation, the sump pump pit, or drains in the floor of the basement that allow for Radon gas to be drawn into the home and then make its way up through the duct work, the flooring, or open doors to and from the basement.
A map detailing the areas of the United States where Radon is prevelent shows that only two states are completely encompassed in the what health officials term as a red zone, or where particulates are very high. The two states are North Dakota and Iowa. The EPA has set recommended levels that need action to be at 4 picocuries per liter of oxygen. A picocury is a particulate measurement. Of the two states, Iowa has the highest percentage of homes above the picocury level set by the EPA.
According to Orcutt, once a person has breathed the gas, it breaks down inside the lung and starts to attack the cells inside the lungs. This can lead to lung cancer even for people who do not smoke as was the case with Orcutt. In fact, the EPA estimates that Radon causes approximately 21,000 deaths annually per year nationwide. Of those 400 are attributed to Iowa alone each year. In the United States alone, Radon is the leading cause of lung cancer in non-smokers, and the second leading cause of lung cancer overall.
Ron Kvale, Winnebago County Sanitarian, told KIOW News that there are no laws on the books mandating that homes, businesses (except for daycares), or schools be checked for Radon gas. In fact, the State of Iowa only enforces laws that impact daycares, but not public or private schools. Orcutt thought that there was a disconnect there and that public institutions such as schools should be subject to the same criteria as daycares.
Orcutt sold Radon detection kits at the meeting for $5 and were easy to set up. Other kits are available at hardware stores, but ”…are usually more expensive and you have to pay for them to be analyzed.” said Orcutt. The kits she distributed could be hung up in the crawl space under a home or in the basement. Once the tester was completed, the homeowner or renter would then send it off to North Carolina to be analyzed and then the lab would send back results either by e-mail or in a letter.
The homeowner could then take action by hiring a certified mitigator who could install a Radon neutralizing system in the home or business. Iowa certifies these mitigators as does every state, but according to John Kollmorgen, himself a state certified mitigator, the state certification process in Iowa is the most rigorous.
According to Kollmorgen, the more sealed up your home is, the greater the amount of concentration of Radon gas is possible. That is not to say that if the house is drafty, there isn’t a gas presence. It is that the gas, once confined, can build up to dangerous levels. Kollmorgen cited several cases he has handled where the picocuries have exceeded 200 per liter in area homes. Kvale agreed that those numbers could definitely be possible because of the rich uranium deposits in the area.
Kollmorgen and his company, Mitigation of Iowa Inc. can test for the gas too. If they find dangerous levels above EPA standards, they can install systems that will neutralize the gas and create safe liveable conditions. Kollmorgan uses a polyeurythane caulk seal around cracks in the foundation and then places a system that goes below the foundation of the home and gathers the gas that is then drawn out of the home and into the open air where it essentially becomes harmless.
Kits to detect the gas are available through the Winnebago County Santarian’s Office or by going to www.healthhouse.org which is manned by the American Lung Association. They can sell kits for around $6 that do not require a separate analyzing fee. Orcutt suggested that every home should test once every two years. She also cautioned prospective homeowners to have the home they intend to buy, tested for Radon gas issues and to do the test themselves. “Accountability in home sales is sometimes lacking when it comes to Radon testing in homes.
Orcutt (right) at the signing by Gov. Branstad
on a resolution on Radon testing
Orcutt has made it her mission to educate the Iowa public on the dangers of Radon. She had one lung removed due to the radon creating a cancer in her lung. Now, about 5 years later, she doesn’t want to see people go through the same problems she did. “People need to be proactive and test.” she insisted.
Kvale encourages everyone to have their homes or businesses tested and his department has kits for sale to do just that. If anyone is interested in testing their home or business for Radon, they can also contact the Winnebago County Sanitarians Office at (641) 585-4763.