Study points to radon problems in Eastern Iowa

The naturally occurring radioactive gas causes 20,000 deaths every year nationwide

Home radon test kits - resident sets up the simple sample collector and mails in the prepaid mailer. The results are mai
Home radon test kits - resident sets up the simple sample collector and mails in the prepaid mailer. The results are mailed back to them. The sponge props the mailer open so the air sample can get in. (Cliff Jette/SourceMedia Group)

CEDAR RAPIDS — More than one-third of homes tested in Linn County, and many others in Eastern Iowa, have radon levels that warrant mitigation, according to a new study.

The naturally occurring radioactive gas, which comes from the breakdown of uranium in soil, enters homes through cracks in the foundation, floors, sump pits and walls.

“Radon is the No. 1 cause of lung cancer for non-smokers,” said Ruby Perin, Healthy Homes branch manager for Linn County Public Health.

Nationwide, radon gas causes more than 20,000 deaths every year, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, with Iowa registering the highest concentrations of radon in the United States.

Linn County Public Health analyzed results of more than 400,000 radon test kits used in 14 Eastern Iowa counties from 1990 to 2011. All but Black Hawk County showed averages above the Environmental Protection Agency’s “action level” of 4 picocuries per liter of air. That doesn’t mean residents of Black Hawk County are safe, though, as some homes there did register above 4.

In Linn County, the average of 253,825 test kits was 4.4 picocuries, with 34 percent of the test kits recording above a 4. Results were similar in Johnson County, where the average was 4.6.

The highest score of the counties studied was Buchanan, at 10.1, followed by Benton at 10.

Perin said homeowners with results above 4 should consider having radon mitigation systems installed. The systems use pipes to ventilate radon out of the home.

Audubon and Muscatine counties are among jurisdictions in Iowa with radon-resistant new construction ordinances. Linn County, like most of the state, does not have such a law, which would require radon systems to be built in new homes.

“It’s a heck of a lot cheaper to put it in while you’re constructing your house,” Perin said — a few hundred dollars, compared with $1,500 or so to install a system in an existing home.

Haley Hegland, Linn County Public Health’s health education specialist, said residents should ask their homebuilder if their new house is being built to be radon-resistant.

Even people in homes with mitigation systems should test their homes every two years, according to the Holden Comprehensive Cancer Center, based at the University of Iowa. The center is offering a limited number of radon test kits for free to Iowa residents this month.

The kits are simple to use. Short-term kits need to be in place for three to seven days in the home’s lowest level before being sent to the lab.

Perin said a confirmation test is recommended because radon levels can fluctuate.

“Testing twice is always best, especially if it comes in high or low,” Hegland said.


For more information on radon, including a list of certified mitigation specialists, see the Iowa Department of Public Health website at:

The American Lung Association in Iowa, in conjunction with the Iowa Department of Public Health, operates the Iowa Radon Hotline at 1-800-383-5992. For more information on testing, mitigation or other questions, see:

Holden Comprehensive Cancer Center Cancer Information Service, based at the University of Iowa, is giving away free radon test kits to Iowa residents during January, with funding from the Iowa Cancer Consortium. Call 1-800-237-1225.

Linn County Public Health has a two-for-one special on radon test kits during January. Two kits are available for $5 from the office at 501 13th St. NW. There is a five free-kit limit.Johnson County Public Health has test kits for $4 each if picked up at the Health Department offices at 855 S. Dubuque St., or $6 by mail. Call (319)356-6040.

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