DES MOINES -- Plans to require radon testing in schools statewide were sidelined last week by Republican lawmakers and school officials who worry positive tests would expose districts and the state to serious liability and expensive repairs.
Supporters of the Democratic-led legislation had strong criticism that the bill under consideration now only requires districts to report on whether they've conducted tests and have a plan to reduce radon if it's found.
"Saying we're not even going to look to see if there's a problem, I think, is a stunning dereliction of duty, and I'm very disappointed in that," said Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal, D-Council Bluffs, at a news conference Thursday. "If you're going to be responsible, you should test and deal with the problems that testing reveals, but putting our head in the sand just means more people will die of lung cancer."
Rep. Matt Windschitl, R-Missouri Valley, said in the House Local Government Committee meeting last week that his Republican colleagues worry that if tests come back positive in many schools, it would create a sudden liability for school districts and the state, and it would require spending large sums of money to fix the buildings.
"That's one of the ultimate concerns that got brought up. Is the legislation before us an unfunded mandate?" he said. "We understand there is a risk out there, and we've been trying to find the right path to address that. We believe this is the right path to move forward on without just jumping the gun, and moving forward without having the data to back it up."
The Environmental Protection Agency considers all of Iowa's 99 counties at the highest risk for radon in buildings because of the state's soil type that tends to allow seepage of the natural occurring radioactive gas from the soil into building foundations.
The EPA has estimated that about 21,000 people die nationally each year from lung cancer caused by radon exposure. It is considered the second-leading cause of lung cancer in the United States by the U.S. Surgeon General and the National Academy of Sciences.
The EPA recommends radon testing for homes and schools.