An Associated Press article published February 14, 2016, with a byline from Lincoln, NE, announced that a bill protecting new homes from radon gas was getting the attention of Nebraska lawmakers. The first-round debate on this bill addressing Nebraska's dangerous levels of cancer-causing radon gas took place the second week of February. Major changes are not expected until next year.
Concerns were initially raised by homebuilders and city officials
Named LB28, the bill was first introduced in the Nebraska Legislature in 2013 by Sen. Bob Krist. Senator Krist said amendments were made to address concerns over mandatory statewide construction standards. The concerns were raised by homebuilders and city officials.
Original language in the bill required all new homes constructed in the state to comply with the new regulations. A recent revision of the bill called for creation of a task force to draft recommendations. Made up of members from state health officials, homebuilders, inspectors, and cancer advocates, the bill requests the task force report back to the Legislature in 2017.
Nebraska is the third highest radon state
Nebraska ranks third, behind of Iowa and North Dakota, as states with the highest prevalence of radon. Concentration is highest in the more populated areas in the eastern, central, and southern parts of the state. Lower concentrations have been detected in the north-central Sandhills. The sandy soil structure of the region makes it easier for the gas to escape and disperse.
"The health risk is high and mitigation is easy," Krist said, considering the fact that radon is a major cause of lung cancer, second only to smoking. It is the leading cause of the disease among non-smokers. Exposure to radon causes about 20,000 lung cancer deaths every year in the U.S.
Preventive measures are not expensive in new construction, Krist said, explaining that a top-of-the-line system costs around $900. Mitigation in an existing structure is more expensive and less effective, Krist added.
Vicki Duey, president of a group of Nebraska public health organizations, said that about half of Nebraska homes have radon gas levels exceeding the EPA's recommendations. Basements and ground floors, Duey said, collect higher concentrations of the toxic gas than upper floors. Duey expects the bill will point to new construction standards aimed at blocking the gas from seeping into homes. She also noted that radon-related disease is preventable.
David Holmquist, a lobbyist for the Nebraska chapter of the American Cancer Association, likes the task force concept. He believes it will help determine best practices for reducing radon levels in homes across the state. Simple construction practices that help keep radon levels low inside a home include gravel under the foundation, a layer of plastic sheeting, underground to surface ventilation pipes, and caulking. Holmquist concluded, "It's time for Nebraska to take a serious look at this."