Radon podcast transcript - November 15, 2007

Nancy Torner, MDH Communications
Kathleen Norlien, MDH Environmental Health

Nancy: Welcome to this podcast on radon, from the Minnesota Department of Health. I’m Nancy Torner from the MDH Communications Office. With me is Heather Keene, a planner principal with MDH. Heather what is radon?

Heather: Well radon is a radioactive gas that is produced naturally, by the decay of uranium and radium in soil. It doesn’t have any taste, smell or color.

Nancy: Is radon dangerous?

Heather: Well people are exposed to radon over time, can increase the long term risk of developing lung cancer. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that each year 21,000 people die of lung cancer from being exposed to radon.

Nancy: Where are people being exposed to radon?

Heather: Radon enters homes from the surrounding soil. It can accumulate in living areas, especially during winter, when homes are sealed and insulated against the cold and the typical points of entry are through cracks in solid floors and walls, gaps around service pipes, cavities in walls and construction joints.

Nancy: If that’s the case, can people do anything to protect themselves from radon?

Heather: Well all homes should be tested for radon. Radon test kids are available for about $6 or less from city or county health departments. The Department of Health can offer more information on buying kits at a discounted price.

Nancy: How do these kits work?

Heather: Well kits need to be placed on the lowest lived in level of your home, at least 20 inches above the floor and away from drafts, high heat, high humidity and exterior walls. The doors and windows should remain closed, as much as possible during the test and for at least 12 hours before starting the test. Each kit does come with instructions about where to send it for analysis and when the test is finished. It takes a few weeks to get the results back. Radon is measured in something called picocuries per liter of air. If test results are 4 or higher the Environmental Protection Agency recommends performing a second test and taking action to reduce the level of radon.

Nancy: That sounds difficult to reduce the level. How does one do that?

Heather: Well there are a number of methods that can reduce radon levels, depending on the characteristics of your home. The best method is to alter pressure differences between a home and surrounding soil, which is called mitigation.

Nancy: Can people do this work themselves?

Heather: It’s best to hire a certified radon mitigation contractor to do the work. A list of contractors is available on the Department of Health website and the work can cost anywhere from about $800 up to $3,000, but the average cost is about $1,200.

Nancy: Does Minnesota regulate radon in homes? Are there any laws?

Heather: State law requires that new homes be built using so called passive radon resistant construction techniques. These techniques reduce the number of entry points for soil gas and provide a route to vent the gases outdoors. In some cases, a passive system might not be enough to prevent unsafe radon levels. The Department of Health recommends testing for radon in all homes, including new ones.

Nancy: So what if I have a passive system installed in the home, but I still have high radon in the basement?

Heather: The passive system can be made active. This requires installing an inline exhaust fan in the vent pipe and wiring the fan into electrical junction box. The thing to remember is that no home should be considered safe until it is tested for radon, because radon can cause cancer, people need to lower their exposure to radon gas, to the lowest level possible.

Nancy: Well thank you Heather for being a guest on this podcast. We invite our listeners to check back regularly for other podcasts on important health topics.

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Updated Tuesday, November 16, 2010 at 12:31PM