Experts urge Iowans to test for radon gas in homes


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

epa-map
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)

UI hosts workshop for middle school teachers


UI Professor Scott Spak demonstrates a potential classroom experiment for the 24 teachers in attendance. Photo by Brynne Schweigel.

The University of Iowa is doing their part in preparing science teachers to cover environmental issues in the classroom. Professor Charlie Stanier and PhD candidate Morgan Yarker recently led a workshop helping middle school teachers develop curricula covering climate, weather and energy. While Professor Stanier was required to conduct an outreach activity as part of a grant, Yarker explained that the workshop went beyond the call of duty:

“Charlie Stanier received a National Science Foundation grant given to scientist who aren’t tenured yet, so that they’ll have money to do research,” said Yarker. “Like almost all NSF grants, you have to have an outreach component. I don’t know what most scientists do, but you don’t usually go to the extent of starting a workshop for teachers.”

Stanier and Yarker decided to focus their efforts on middle school teachers in order to help them adapt to Iowa’s upcoming education changes. Iowa is going to implement new state education standards called Iowa Core, whose goals include making middle school students more informed on Earth science topics, such as weather and climate. Continue reading

Drake to host workshop on sustainability


Drake University will host its 5th annual Innovation and Leadership Conference this Friday, Jan. 14 at the College of Business and Public Administration in Aliber Hall.

The conference theme, “Food Policy, Social Justice, Hunger and Sunstainability – A Cross-National Perspective,” will feature discussions about the inter-relations between food production, energy consumption, environmental sustainability, healthy eating, and today’s global food systems.  Agricultural and social policies will be looked at as well.

There is a $30 registration fee and check in begins at 8:30 a.m.  For more information, check out the college’s website.