To some people Gail Orcutt was a dedicated teacher for 33 years from Iowa who enjoyed gardening, quilting and playing golf. But to the radon industry she was a revered spokesperson, advocate, and hero who changed the lives of many.
Gail Orcutt was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2010 even though she had never smoked or worked in a smoking environment. Radon was determined to be the cause of her lung cancer. This surprising diagnosis propelled her into a ten-year journey to advocate for radon awareness, testing, and mitigation.
With the passion of a true teacher, Gail educated the public and healthcare providers about the dangers of radon exposure. She lobbied with state legislators to require radon testing and mitigation in public schools to prevent children and teachers from experiencing her same health crisis.
Just two years after her death, on May 24, 2022, the Gail Orcutt School Safety Radon Bill was signed into law by Iowa governor Kim Reynolds. The bill requires Iowa public schools to test for radon and then mitigate if necessary. The biggest threat from radon comes from long term exposure over time. With students and teachers spending all day in school buildings for years on end, the threat of long-term radon exposure during school hours is an alarming health threat.
What is radon
Radon is an odorless and colorless gas. It forms when uranium in the soil beneath a home, school, or building decays. The gas decays into harmful radioactive atoms that get caught in the respiratory tract when we breath. Over time, this exposure causes lung cancer.
Radon is the #1 cause of lung cancer in nonsmokers and the #2 cause of cancer nationwide. The state of Iowa leads the nation with the highest average indoor radon concentration. It is estimated that 5 out of 7 homes in Iowa have an unsafe level of radon exposure. This gives Iowans an elevated risk of lung cancer compared to other Americans.
What is an unsafe level of radon
Radon is measured in picocuries per liter (pCi/L). The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has determined radon measurements of 4 pCi/L or higher to be dangerous levels. This radon level is largely unsafe and is 10 times higher than the average level outdoors. Any radon exposure raises a person’s likelihood of developing cancer, but levels above 4 pCi/L are particularly likely to lead to lung cancer. The World Health Organization recommends that anyone with a measurement of 2 pCi/L should take action to lower the radon levels in the home, even if they’re not an immediate threat to health. Because of this high risk, it is best to attempt to reach the lowest levels possible. Lowest levels are achieved through mitigation systems, either active or passive, that work to move fresh air in and remove radon by pushing it out.
How to measure for radon in a home or residence
Radon levels are easily measured with at-home tests you set up in certain areas and sent away for lab analysis. The tests fall into two main categories of short-term and long-term products.
The quickest short-term screening will measure radon for 48 to 96 hours to generate test results. For a more accurate short-term result, use a short-term alpha track detector for 10 to 90 days such as the Radonova Rapidos detector. Radon testing can be required for real estate transactions. Short-term screenings or short-term tests are usually all that’s required for real estate transactions and construction permit requirements. Long-term tests provide the most accurate result – the longer you can measure, the more accurate your results will be. The Radonova Radtrak3 is the most accurate long-term radon detector on the market.
When evaluating radon test kits, choose tests with clear instructions on where to place the test kit and how to prevent false readings from drafts or open windows. The test kits should include everything you need to complete the test and generate accurate results. If test results are above safe limits, then radon mitigation is needed.
If you are experiencing health issues from radon that are diagnosed by a doctor, then radon mitigation costs may be eligible for reimbursement with a flexible spending account (FSA) or health savings account (HSA). A Letter of Medical Necessity (LMN) is required first from your physician. Secure the medical diagnosis with your doctor and verify this information with your FSA or HSA provider to confirm coverage.
How to measure for radon in a school building
Measuring for radon in schools is more involved than a residence because of the factors that contribute to radon gas entering the building such as:
- type of building construction
- type of HVAC system
- presence of basements, crawl spaces or utility tunnels
- presence of construction renovations or additions over the years.
The EPA recommends that all frequently used rooms and classrooms on and below the ground level be tested for radon. Radon levels can vary from room to room – even neighboring classrooms.
Commercial solutions from Radonova for school radon testing include bulk ordering discounts for radon testing companies and school districts. In Iowa, measuring for radon in schools must be completed by a certified Iowa Radon Measurement Specialist. If radon levels are too high, then radon mitigation is required and must be completed by a certified Iowa Radon Mitigation Specialist.
Thank you Gail Orcutt
Her perseverance paid off. School children and teachers in Iowa will forever be more protected from harmful effects of radon because of her efforts. Gail Orcutt passed away on May 19, 2020 – almost 2 years to the day that the bill was signed on May 24, 2022. In addition to leaving behind a husband, stepsons, and grandchildren, she left behind a legacy of radon awareness and lung cancer prevention for all citizens of Iowa.
Radonova is the laboratory of choice for numerous government radon surveys, as well as other public, and private sector large-scale measurement contracts around the world. A truly global laboratory, Radonova is active in over 50 countries and has performed millions of measurements.