- Associated Press - Tuesday, April 8, 2014

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) - The state will ask schools whether they are testing for the presence of radon gas, under a bill that the Iowa Senate sent to Gov. Terry Branstad on Tuesday.

The bill requires districts to report by the end of this year to the Iowa Department of Education and requires the agency to file a report with the Legislature by January.

The Senate passed the bill 39-10, and it now goes to the governor for consideration. Branstad’s spokesman said the governor will carefully review the legislation when he receives it.

The Environmental Protection Agency, which recommends radon testing for homes and schools, has estimated 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 bill originated in the Senate and initially required schools to test for radon. Buildings with levels above the EPA’s recommended levels of the naturally occurring radioactive gas had to make repairs.

The House, however, last month stripped the required testing and repair language, requiring instead the information gathering. The amended bill passed the House March 18.

“We passed a very meaningful bill out of the Senate recognizing more than 400 Iowans die each year as a result of radon-related lung cancer,” said Sen. Matt McCoy, D-Des Moines, who proposed the original bill. “We took a bill that was very proactive, had a plan to test, had a plan to mitigate, had source to receive funding to do mitigation and boiled it down to a report.”

McCoy said a report is better than no action and it may help raise public awareness of the issue.

“This bill is a step in the right direction and will help educate school districts about the risk of radon and how to mitigate any actual problem,” said Rep. Matt Windschitl, R-Missouri Valley. “It will also provide feedback on ways the Legislature may be more helpful in testing and mitigation in the future if necessary.”

Windschitl said during the House Local Government Committee meeting last month that his Republican colleagues worry that if tests come back positive in many schools, the districts and the state would then be liable and would have to spend large sums of money to fix the buildings.

The EPA 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 gas from into building foundations.

McCoy vowed to return next year with another proposal for testing.

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