January 4, 2021
Radioactive gas is persistent health risk
Minnesota homes need to be tested for radon, especially now that people are spending more time at home
Now that the pandemic has forced many people to spend more time in their homes, their potential exposure to household health hazards may be greater. This means it is more important than ever to know if your home has high levels of radon – the invisible radioactive gas found at elevated levels in many Minnesota homes.
Radon is an odorless, colorless and tasteless gas that occurs naturally in Minnesota soils all over the state. The only way for residents to know if their home has radon is to test. More than 21,000 lung cancer deaths are attributed to radon each year in the United States. Radon is the leading cause of lung cancer among non-smokers. Fortunately, the risk is largely preventable through testing homes and fixing radon problems.
“Radon testing and mitigation increased from 2010-15, and it has held steady in the last five years,” said Dan Tranter, supervisor of the Indoor Air Program at the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH). “Unfortunately, many people are still being exposed to high levels of radioactive radon who don’t know it. With more people working and schooling from home, it’s especially important now to test your home.”
Test devices are placed in the home for 2-5 days. The best time to test is during the heating season, but testing can be done year round.
During National Radon Action Month in January, MDH is raising radon awareness through TV, radio, billboard and internet spots. MDH is also partnering with local public health departments and other organizations to raise awareness and make test kits available to Minnesotans at low or no cost. Lists of participating health agencies and vendors can be found on the MDH website at Radon Testing. Hardware stores may also stock test kits. Licensed professionals can also conduct testing.
To help residents get a more accurate picture of radon levels in Minnesota, MDH launched a series of maps showing information from 2016 to 2019 at Radon. Some of the key findings were:
- About 40% of Minnesota homes have dangerous levels of radon.
- The average radon level in Minnesota homes is about 4.5 pCi/L compared to 1.3 pCi/L nationwide.
- Only about 1% of homes in Minnesota are tested annually, when it’s recommend that at least 20% are tested annually.
- Testing and mitigation is less frequent in communities with lower incomes and more renters.
Health professionals recommend testing for radon during real-estate transactions. Radon tests should be incorporated into a home inspection. MDH licenses home inspectors and other professionals who test for radon. A list of currently licensed radon measurement professionals can be found on the Find a Radon Measurement Professional page on the MDH site.
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 on the Find a Radon Mitigation Professional page on the MDH website.
To learn more about radon risks, testing, mitigation, and licensure in Minnesota:
- MN Public Health Data Access portal
- Purchase a low-cost test kit
- Visit Radon in Homes or call the MDH Indoor Air Unit at 651-201-4601 or 1-800-798-9050.