Energy-efficient homes come with radon risk


Photo by Birdies100, Flickr

Houses around the country are increasingly built with energy-efficiency in mind, but many people don’t realize that these measures can lead to higher in-home radon levels. Radon is the second-leading cause of lung cancer, accounting for the death of 21,000 Americans every year. New homes are typically built with tight seals in order to make them energy efficient. These tight seals don’t prevent the radon from entering, but do prevent it from escaping. KCRG-TV reports that this is a pertinent issue for Iowans as Iowa has the highest radon concentration in the U.S.:

Increasing numbers of Iowans are testing their homes for radon — an encouraging sign, advocates say. Yet radon levels have increased across much of Iowa as people place a greater value on tightly sealed, energy-efficient homes at the expense of indoor air quality. Radon still enters those homes through the ground, but it doesn’t escape.

“There are more homes now in need of radon mitigation than there were in the past,” said Bill Field, a University of Iowa researcher and author of several key studies linking radon and lung cancer.

One of his recent studies found that people living five to 30 years in homes with radon concentrations of 3.0 picocuries per liter of air had an 11 percent to 21 percent increased risk of lung cancer. That risk increased with more radon exposure.

Organizations around Iowa look to increase awareness of radon and are advocating for new laws mandating radon testing in Iowa homes.

The Iowa Radon Coalition is looking to draft and push legislation in the next session that would encourage more testing and mitigation. Members acknowledge the Legislature has grown less receptive to regulation, however, and they anticipate opposition from builders and Realtors.

Paul McLaughlin, legal council to the Iowa Association of Realtors, said that group would oppose mandatory testing and mitigation of new homes. He said the current rules work well.

“The vast majority of metropolitan markets honor the rule,” he said, though he recently received a call from a rural Realtor who didn’t know of the law.

“I don’t think that the vast majority of Realtors are overly concerned about people not testing their homes for radon,” he added.

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About Michael Gallagher

I am originally from outside of Chicago, but I have spent the last five years in Iowa pursuing my education. From 2006-2010 I attended Grinnell College, where I received a B.A. in English. Currently, I am a graduate student in the University of Iowa's journalism department. In addition to my work for CGRER, I write for the non-profit investigative reporting organization Iowa Watch. Previously, I worked as a freelance writer, primarily contributing to Hoopla (The Gazette's arts and culture publication), and I assistant coached the Grinnell College cross country and track teams for a year. My interests include writing, running, watching the Chicago Bulls, and . . . environmental news!
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