It's colorless, odorless, and more prevalent in Iowa than any other state. Radon gas is causing 400 deaths in Iowa every year.
Bill Field is a professor of epidemiology at the University of Iowa and an internationally recognized radon expert. He says 75 percent of homes in Iowa have radon gas concentrations above the Environmental Protection Agency's action level. Iowa has the highest average radon levels in the country because of its soil.
"The same source that made Iowa soil so good came from glaciation about a million years ago. And the rocks in the Canadian shield where the glaciers came from, radon can escape from the outer surface, but when you pulverize those giant rocks into small pieces like our soil, it produces a lot of potential for radon to emanate from those soils."
That means Iowans need to be particularly vigilant about testing their homes for radon. Field found that spending 50 years in house with radon levels over the EPA action level increases the likelihood of lung cancer by 50%. Gail Orcutt, a non-smoker, discovered dangerous radon levels in her home after she was diagnosed with lung cancer. Now she's lobbying for stricter radon gas regulations.
Orcutt says education is needed, which would require some funding. She would also like to see new homes built with passive radon systems.
“I'd love to see some kind of test required before a house is sold,” she says. “And our schools, some of them have radon that shouldn't be there."
But more pressing to Orcutt and Field than legislative changes are personal solutions. They want every person to test their own home and find a mitigator to reduce dangerous levels of radon gas.
On this episode of River to River, host Ben Kieffer talks with Orcutt and Field. Kelly Foley, general manager of Ameriserv Radon Mitigation and certified radon specialist, also joins the conversation. Iowa radon resources can be found here.