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University of Iowa News Release

Jan. 24, 2006

Iowa Residents Urged To Test For Radon Levels

January is National Radon Action Month, a good time for Iowans to test for radon in their homes, according to a University of Iowa expert in radon research.

"With elevated levels of radon and more people spending time inside during the winter in Iowa, there is very high risk of increased exposure," said R. William Field, Ph.D., associate professor of occupational and environmental health in the UI College of Public Health. "Every home should be tested because one home could have a low reading and their next door neighbor could have a very high reading. The only way to know is to test."

Radon is an odorless, colorless gas that is found in earth and rock beneath homes, well water and building materials. It is created by the natural decay of uranium in the soil and seeps up through the ground as a gas that gets trapped in the home. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, radon is the second-leading cause of lung cancer in the United States and is responsible for approximately 21,000 lung cancer deaths each year.  

Iowans are at the greatest risk of being exposed to elevated levels of radon. Iowa has the largest percentage of homes above the EPA radon action guideline of 4 picocuries per liter (pCi/L) of air, more than any other state. According to the Iowa Department of Public Health, every county in Iowa is a "Zone 1" for radon potential. A "Zone 1" rating means that the radon content is greater than 4 pCi/L. In about 10 to 15 percent of the homes in Iowa, radon concentrations exceed 10 pCi/L.

There are many low-cost test kits available through the mail or at local hardware stores, Field said. The EPA recommends that homes be fixed if the radon levels are 4 pCi/L or greater. Homes can be fixed by installing radon reduction systems that, in many cases, can reduce radon levels by as much as 99 percent.

"It is very important to fix the problem because even at the EPA action level of 4 pCi/L, we saw a 50 percent increased risk of lung cancer for prolonged exposure to radon in epidemiologic studies that were performed in Iowa," Field said. "People need to be reminded of the presence of radon because it is naturally occurring and there are no sensory reminders to make people aware of its presence."

For more information about radon, visit the EPA online at http://www.epa.gov/radon or the Iowa Department of Public Health Web site at http://www.idph.state.ia.us, or call the Iowa Radon Hotline toll free at 800-383-5992 for radon specialists in your area. Inexpensive radon test kits can also be ordered from the Iowa Air Coalition by calling toll free 800-206-7818.

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa Health Science Relations, 5139 Westlawn, Iowa City, Iowa 52242-1178

MEDIA CONTACT: David Pedersen, 319-335-8032, david-pedersen@uiowa.edu; Writer: Andrea Schreiber