Radon is the leading environmental cause of cancer deaths in the United States and the leading cause of lung cancer among non-smokers. More than 21,000 lung cancer deaths are attributed to radon each year in the U.S.
This risk is largely preventable, by testing homes and fixing radon problems. About two in five Minnesota homes have dangerous levels of radon gas while in Rice County, that number is three in five. State health officials say every home should be tested.
Radon is an odorless, colorless and tasteless radioactive gas that occurs naturally in Minnesota soils. It can enter buildings through cracks or openings in walls or foundations. The only way for residents to know if their home has radon is to test.
Testing is easy, inexpensive and only takes 3-7 days. The best time to test is during the heating season, but testing can be done year-round. Test kits are available at many hardware stores, or directly from radon testing laboratories. Rice County residents also have the option of calling Rice County Public Health at 507-332-6111 and requesting to have a free test kit mailed out to their home.
Tests should be done in the lowest level of the home that is frequently occupied. In homes found to have high radon levels, radon reduction typically involves installing a venting pipe and fan to pull the gas from under the home to the outside. This reduces the amount of radon in the home to low levels. Professionals conducting radon mitigation must be licensed by MDH, follow standards, and affix a MDH tag to the system. A list of currently licensed radon mitigation professionals can be found at health.state.mn.us/communities/environment/air/radon/mitigation.html.
It is highly recommended to test during real-estate transactions, for example, as part of a home inspection.
MDH licenses home inspectors and other professionals who test for radon. Minnesota law requires disclosure and information be provided to buyers about radon during Minnesota home sales. The law requires sellers to inform buyers whether their home has been tested for radon and if so, what the levels are and whether the home has been mitigated for radon. In addition, sellers must provide a warning statement and a 2-page publication to the buyer. The law does not require radon testing or mitigation.
Another law requires all new homes built since 2009 be built with passive radon resistant features. About one in five of these newer homes have radon above the recommended action level; this is an improvement over the levels found in the overall Minnesota housing stock where about 2 in 5 homes have elevated levels. MDH encourages builders to activate the passive radon resistant features through the addition of a radon fan. In addition, new home buyers can request the fan be added during construction. In these new homes with radon fans, MDH has found very low radon concentrations.
To help residents get a more accurate picture of radon, the Minnesota Department of Health launched a radon data portal. The portal includes interactive maps that describe radon levels and disparities in testing and mitigation rates. The portal can be found at data.web.health.state.mn.us/web/mndata/radon.
For more information on radon testing and mitigation, visit health.state.mn.us/radon or call the Minnesota Department of Health Indoor Air Unit at 651-201-4601 or 1-800-798-9050.