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Finding Radon Could Save Lives

Finding Radon Could Save Lives

The second-leading cause of lung cancer is something probably few know about and not enough homeowners test for.

The Minnesota Department of Health wants to change that. Gov. Mark Dayton has declared January to be Radon Action Month in Minnesota.

“Radon is a persistent health threat in the state, and we try to call attention to it all year round,” said Andrew Gilbert, MDH radon outreach coordinator.

More than 40 percent of Minnesota homes have dangerous levels of radon gas, and state health officials say every home should be tested.

“Radon is a radioactive gas that’s naturally occurring in the soil, so you can’t really see it, smell it or taste it, so that’s the danger: You don’t know it’s there unless you are testing for it,” he said. “It’s kind of out of sight, out of mind.”

Cancer risk

Radon is the largest environmental cancer risk and the leading cause of lung cancer among nonsmokers, according to the Minnesota Department of Health.

“Because it’s radioactive, it’s emitting little bursts of energy. ... And if those bursts hit really soft tissue such as lung tissue, it can actually damage your DNA right in your lung tissue, and that damage then can lead to gene mutation and lung cancer,” Gilbert said.

The Environmental Protection Agency attributes more than 21,000 deaths to radon each year in the U.S. One person in the country dies from radon-related lung cancer every 25 minutes. Radon exposure, however, is a preventable health threat, according to Gilbert.

“People need to realize that few homes are getting tested, yet it’s a big problem,” said Bill Carlson, vice president of Healthy Homes, a professional radon testing and mitigation company in St. Cloud.

More than 1,000 homeowners in the state every year have radon reduction systems installed — a small percentage of all Minnesota homes that have elevated radon levels, according to the MDH.

“These homes can be fixed relatively inexpensively in comparison to the cost of a home or any other major repair,” Carlson said of radon mitigation system installations, which cost less than $1,500.

Most test kits are priced less than $20 and are available at city and county health departments, many hardware stores or directly from radon testing laboratories; discounted test kits can also be purchased online at www.radon.com, according to the MDH.

Healthy living

Kim Diskerud runs a day care in her four-bedroom, two-story home on Clearwater Road. She had a radon mitigation system installed in the home before buying it.

“The reason why we got it installed was because we were looking at the house, and we had an inspection done, and they found that there was radon in the house,” Diskerud said.

About 39 percent of the homes in Stearns County containing radon test kits by Air Chek Industries Inc. had dangerous levels of radon, according to a seven-year, county-based database by Air Chek.

“It can cause cancer, so with little kids living here, for safety and health reasons, we had the radon (mitigation) system installed,” said Diskerud, a 30-year-old wife and mother of two.

Healthy Homes’ Carlson said, “Many of these day cares are in the basements of homes, where radon levels are even higher ... especially right next to the ground (where children often nap).”

Radon testing is easy and takes between three and five days, according to the MDH.

Getting tested

The best time to test for radon is in the winter, but testing can be done year-round, the MDH says.

The homes tested with Air Chek kits in Stearns County starting in 2006 had an average radon level of 5.1 picocuries per liter (pCi/L). The most radon recorded in a county home with an Air Chek kit was 131.4 pCi/L.

“Each one pCi/L is equivalent to the consumption of two cigarettes in a given day, so for the people who had 131.4 pCi/L in their home, that would be comparable to smoking about 262 cigarettes,” Carlson said.

Radon testing should be done in the lowest level of the home that is frequently occupied; tests should not be done in laundry or utility rooms, kitchens or bathrooms, according to the MDH.

“We tell people to do the short-term tests initially, as a screening test, because you kind of want to figure out what the worst-case scenario is and then use that information to determine whether you think you got a problem, or if you need to do some more testing,” Gilbert said.

If a home’s radon level is more than 4 pCi/L, the homeowner should consider verification testing or having a radon mitigation system installed, according to state health officials.

read more here: http://www.sctimes.com/article/20130110/NEWS01/301100020/Finding-radon-could-save-lives?nclick_check=1