January is Radon Action Month. 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 will 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.
Iowa has one of the highest levels of radon gas in the country Five out of every seven Iowa homes have elevated radon levels and state health officials are urging residents to have their houses checked for the odorless, colorless radioactive gas. Mindy Uhle, who is the executive officer of the Iowa Department of Public Health, says long-term exposure to radon may cause lung cancer.
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.r
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. While radon levels are varied, every one of Iowa’s 99 counties is considered at high risk for elevated levels.
Those who are concerned of the possibility of radon in their home can obtain a testing unit according to Ron Kvale, Winnebago County Sanitarian.
He wants to go out and do presentations, particularly to those who are young professionals or just starting out with a family. The reason is because that age group is moving, into and staying in, a home for a longer period of time. This can lead to greater exposure to radon, but no guarantee of developing cancer.
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. Many of those involved in radon testing say that there is a disconnect with this and that public institutions such as schools should be subject to the same criteria as daycares.