It’s ‘Radon Action Month’ in Iowa (for very good reason)

The entire state of Iowa is at risk for high levels of radon (Wikimedia Commons).

Julia Poska | January 17, 2019

This week, Gov. Kim Reynolds designated January as “Radon Action Month” for the state of Iowa. Various areas across the country share that designation. Reynolds and the Iowa Department of Public Health encourage people to test their homes for radon and take steps towards resolving the issue if a problem is discovered.

Radon is a colorless, odorless radioactive gas that forms when naturally occurring uranium in soil and rocks decays. It often leaks from soil into homes via water, cracks in foundations and walls, or poorly sealed windows. Long-term exposure to elevated levels of radon is the leading cause of lung cancer in non-smokers in the U.S.

Iowa has high levels of radon across the board. Every county is listed as EPA Radon Zone 1, meaning over 50 percent of tested households had radon levels above the EPA’s 4 pCi/L (picocuries per liter) threshold for recommended testing. In 2014, testing in some Iowa counties indicated average levels above 10 ppi. The U.S. average is 1.3 pC/I, according to the Iowa Radon Homebuyers and Sellers Fact Sheet.

If a homeowner determines that radon in their home is above 4 pCi/L, public health agencies recommend mitigating the issue. First, call Iowa’s Radon Hotline (1-800-383-5992) for information and guidance. Then contact a registered radon mitigation contractor to determine how to best solve the issue in your home and implement strategies like suction, sealants and pressurization.  According to the Kansas State University National Radon Program Services, such a system typically costs about $800 to $1500 dollars.


Testing kits can be purchased cheaply your local county health department, at the Iowa Radon Hotline (1-800-383-5992), or online (ratings here).

Information about mitigating a radon issue can be found here.

The Iowa Department of Public Health’s official list of registered radon mitigation specialists can be found here.

Learn about radon data for your locality here.
*** Keep in mind that these data are based on averages from a small sample of homes    in the area, and may not be a useful indicator for radon exposure risk in your home.

More information on radon

Experts urge Iowans to test for radon gas in homes

Radon mitigation systems use a ventilation pipe and a fan to push radon gas from the basement of the home into the open air. (Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services)
Jenna Ladd | December 29, 2016

As temperatures in Iowa plummet, residents are spending more time indoors, and some experts say there could be associated health risks.

Health officials and experts publicly encouraged Iowa residents to have their homes tested for radon this week. Anthony Salcedo, service manager at Thrasher Basement Systems in Omaha and Council Bluffs, said the odorless, colorless gas is found in many homes in the area.

Salcedo said, “We’re plagued with it, Iowa, Nebraska, we actually lead the country. It’s in about 70% of all homes.”

He noted that the presence of radon has nothing to do with the construction of the home. Salcedo explained,

“It’s not a foundation issue, it’s basically just what we’re building on. It could be a brand new home, it could be a 50-year-old home. We have a lot of clay soil and there’s no way to stop it on the front end. The soil breaks down, the uranium deposits, the radon gases will eventually make their way into your home and cause those health issues.”

Radon inhalation is the leading cause of lung cancer among nonsmokers, it leads to 400 deaths from lung cancer in Iowa each year. Paul Niles, a certified physician’s assistant at Akron Mercy Medical Clinic, has set out to educate his patients about radon.

Niles said, “Most people confuse radon with carbon monoxide.”

At-home radon testing kits can be purchased for about ten dollars from most hardware stores. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, if the test reads above 2 picoCuries per liter of air (pCi/L), homeowners should consider having a radon mitigation system installed. Niles explained that the Akron Mercy Medical Clinic has had a mitigation system installed. A pipe along with a fan pushes radon gas from underground into the open air outdoors.

He said, “Every county has high levels of radon. While you’re outside in the environment, it doesn’t really cause any health problems, but it’s when you’re in confined spaces that it can really do damage to the lungs.”

Buchanan County ISU Extension and Outreach has partnered with Buchanan County Environmental Health to provide a free public radon workshop. Residents can attend the workshop to learn more about radon, how to test for it at home and what to do after the test results come in.

Free Public Radon Workshop
Tuesday, January 24th, 7-8:30 pm
Where: Quasqueton City Hall, 113 Water St N – Quasqueton

All of Iowa falls into the EPA’s zone 1, meaning that Iowa homes are very likely to have high levels of radon contamination. (Iowa Air Coalition)

Experts discuss radon testing in Iowa’s schools

Radon mitigation system. Photo by theglauber, Flickr.
Radon mitigation system. Photo by theglauber, Flickr.

Iowa Public Radio spoke with Senator Matt McCoy, a radon–induced lung cancer survivor and a member of the Iowa Association of School Boards about radon testing in Iowa Schools.

As detailed in our radio segment, a bill was proposed in Iowa that would require schools to test for radon ever two years. If the schools fail the test twice, they would have to install radon remediation systems.

Listen to Iowa Public Radio’s story here.

On the Radio: Legislators propose radon testing in Iowa’s schools

Radon detector. Photo by megankhines, Flickr.
Radon detector. Photo by megankhines, Flickr.

Listen to this week’s radio segment here or read the transcript below. This week’s segment discusses a proposed bill that would address radon contamination in Iowa’s schools.

Iowa legislators want to reduce the radon risk in our state’s schools.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

Continue reading

Iowa senator proposes radon testing in schools

Home radon mitigation system. Photo by mtsofan, Flickr.
Home radon mitigation system. Photo by mtsofan, Flickr.

Iowa state senator Matt McCoy has introduced a bill requiring radon testing in Iowa’s schools.

If the schools twice test at above 4 picocuries per liter, they would be required to install radon remediation systems.

Radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer, and Iowa homes contain the highest levels of radon in the country.

Fore more information, click here or check out our past posts about radon.

On the Radio: Radon a risk in Iowa schools

Photo by Birdies100, Flickr.

Listen to this week’s radio segment here or read the transcript below. This week’s episode discusses the lack of guidelines for radon testing in Iowa schools.

When it comes to radon, it’s time for Iowans to think of our children.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

Continue reading

Map: Iowa counties’ average indoor radon levels

I’ve put together a map that shows the average indoor radon level of every county in Iowa. Click on the image above to access the map.

The green color on the map indicates that the county has an average indoor radon level of 3-4 (pCi/L) – a safe level. All the other colors indicate unsafe levels of radon. Yellow is 4-7 (pCi/L), red is 7-9 (pCi/L) and blue is 9-12 (pCi/L). The national average indoor radon level is about 1.3 (pCi/L) according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

The average indoor radon level data is from Air Chek, INC., population data is from the Iowa Data Centerand the number of home/condo owners and apartment renters data is from City Data.

Go here for information on the dangers of radon exposure.

Radon testing not mandated in Iowa schools

Radon mitigating system. Photo by Alan Light, Flickr.

An article from The Gazette examines why there are no guidelines or mandates for radon testing in Iowa’s schools.

Radon is a major problem in Iowa where levels of the gas far exceed the national average. Radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer, leading to the death of 21,000 each year, including 400 Iowans. The gas rises from the soil and enters buildings through openings in floors and walls.

Despite its danger, many Iowa schools haven’t tested for radon in decades. This is mainly because it’s costly to test for radon, and even more costly to mitigate the gas.

Read more from The Gazette here.

EPA may reduce funding towards radon abatement

Radon detector. Photo by megankhines, Flickr.

The Environmental Protection Agency is planning to cut funding towards reducing our nation’s radon risk.

Under the proposed budget, the EPA would cut about $2 million from its radon program and eliminate all state grants.

Radon is a major issue in our state, as Iowa has the highest concentration of radon in the nation.

Radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer. The EPA estimates that 21,000 Americans die each year from radon exposure.

Read an article from The Sacramento Bee about the reduction in radon funding here.

Investigation finds high radon levels in U.S. classrooms

Radon detector. Photo by Nils Reiter, Flickr.

An investigation by MSNBC found that many schools around the nation, including in Iowa, have high radon levels and rarely test their radon concentration.

One of the stories told in the report describes the experience of an Iowa teacher who developed lung cancer. After the diagnosis, she tested the radon levels in her home and school – both were high.

Radon exposure is a major issue in our state. The EPA estimates that 21,000 American die every year from radon exposure. Iowa has the highest concentrations of radon in the nation.

Read the full article here.

Check out our radio segment on radon here.