By Michael Berger, University of Iowa Student Intern
As part of the Johnson County Health Improvement Plan, radon is identified as a health priority. Radon concentrations over 4.0 pCi/L are considered dangerously high. In Iowa, the average concentration is 8.5 pCi/L and every county is considered a Zone 1 area by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Being identified as a Zone 1 state for radon concentration means over 50% of homes in Iowa have radon concentration levels over 4.0 pCi/L. Concentrations above the EPA’s recommendation puts communities and homes across the state at serious health risk, the biggest concern being lung cancer. Radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer, and the leading cause of lung cancer in non-smokers.
Radon resistant new construction laws in Iowa City, Coralville, and North Liberty require new home builds to have a radon mitigation system put in place. Mitigation systems are used to reduce the radon concentration level in a home or other building. Unlike urban areas in Iowa, rural communities don’t have radon resistant new construction laws that require these systems to be installed. Homes and buildings in rural areas are usually older so it is easier for radon to enter because of cracks in the foundation and structure.
The Community Health and Environmental Health Divisions within Johnson County Public Health (JCPH) partnered to address Johnson County’s high radon concentrations. To raise awareness and promote action JCPH created posters, brochures, and postcards that include information about the dangers of radon and what individuals can do to decrease radon levels in their homes. Over the past couple months JCPH has held two separate focus groups presenting the different radon education materials. One of these focus groups was targeted to rural communities and one was targeting the general population of Johnson County. Each group was asked the same set of questions about how visually appealing and informative the materials were. Both of the groups provided feedback that will help JCPH improve the messages being distributed.
JCPH has been working on building new relationships with community partners to increase awareness and aid in the promotion of radon test kits. One of these new partners is the Sharon Center United Methodist Church where the first focus group was held. Currently, the materials are going through changes based on the feedback voiced in the focus groups. Once this step is completed, JCPH will send an email to the participants with a summary about the discussion that occurred as well as the new and updated materials. The final edited materials will be released in January. The postcards will be targeting rural populations while the brochures and posters will be available to the public at health fairs and around the community.