Radon pathways

Minnesota in general boasts higher than usual levels of radon gas, but in Rice County, about 60 percent of tested homes have dangerous levels of radon gas in them. (Minnesota Department of Health)

Almost 60 percent Rice County homes have dangerous levels of radon gas, so officials are urging residents to have their homes checked by offering free radon test kits during National Radon Action Month.

According to the Minnesota Department of Health, 59 percent of properties tested registered positive for radon gas in Rice County between 2010 and 2016. The study shows most Rice County homes have dangerous levels of the gas, a leading cause of lung cancer among non-smokers.

As a state, Minnesota has “very high levels” of radon in homes according to Dan Tranter, an indoor air quality expert with the state of Minnesota. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency set the threshold for dangerous amounts of radon gas at 4 picocuries per liter, or pCi/L.

Rice County’s average home sits at about 5.9 pCi/L.

Making matters worse is the fact that the Environmental Protection Agency’s bar is much higher than that of the World Health Organization, which determined that 2.7 pCi/L is the threshold for dangerous radon levels.

For Rice County Public Health Supervisor Sara Coulter, however, her experience with radon is that any amount can be harmful.

“What really struck me as I’ve been learning about it is there is no acceptable level,” said Coulter, who encourages Rice County residents to obtain test kits to be used in the basements or ground levels of their homes.

“The best testing conditions are with the home closed,” she said. “Otherwise, you have air flowing throughout the house. That’s why January is good, because homes are typically closed.”

In observance of National Radon Action Month, Rice County is offering free test kits to residents that can be picked up at the Rice County Government Center in Faribault or at the Rice County Public Health office at Northfield City Hall.

Testing kits can also be purchased online at mn.radon.com for about $10 and at many hardware stores.

The tests are easy to use as well, normally taking between three and seven days to measure the radon in a home. If you’re more inclined to trust a professional, however, Faribault’s Bauer Restoration is gearing up to handle the January rush of radon testing and mitigation services.

Bruce Bauer has been registered with the National Radon Proficiency Program for 14 years and the company has provided testing and radon removal services during that time. Recently, the company announced the certification of Michael “Mick” Vedder, too.

“Mick was an apprentice for two years before taking the exam,” said Bauer of the addition of another certified mitigator. “He’s worked alongside two of Bauer’s most experienced mitigators.

This winter season, Bauer and Vedder plan to make the rounds, performing 15-30 minute consultations in an attempt to figure out the best mitigation plan.

“We’ve done enough of these that we can usually come up with a design fairly quickly with about a 90 percent success rate the first time,” Bauer said. “If we aren’t successful on our first attempt, we can come up with a plan B to address any loose ends.”

What is radon?

An odorless, colorless gas, radon is easy to ignore, but that could have deadly consequences.

The radioactive gas seeps up from the earth and into homes. When inhaled, it gives off radioactive particles that can damage the cells that line the lung, according to the Minnesota Department of Health’s radon guide.

In fact, over 21,000 lung cancer deaths in the United States each year are from radon, according to a release from Rice County.

The gas comes from the natural decay of uranium found in almost all soil. When uranium breaks down into radium, it then disintegrates into radon.

In the average Rice County home, the radon’s pathways and the air pressure in the building can both contribute to the radon levels that exist there. The pathways are routes the gas uses to enter the home like exposed soil in crawl spaces, gaps in building materials, cracks in concrete slabs or joints between floors and walls.

Reach Reporter Gunnar Olson at 507-333-3128 or follow him on Twitter @fdnGunnar.

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