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Radon testing is becoming more common with homeowners

More Minnesotans are testing their homes for radon, the radioactive gas that occurs naturally in the ground and can seep into homes. It’s estimated that 21,000 lung cancer deaths a year in the United States are attributed to radon exposure.

The Minnesota Department of Health said earlier this year that testing has doubled in the past two years, thanks to awareness efforts and a new state law that requires sellers of homes to tell potential buyers whether a home has been tested, and, if so, what the levels are.

But what happens after tests of the levels in a basement or living space exceed state standards for safety?

A call should go out to a radon mitigator. The fix for radon is relatively easy, experts say. A job usually starts at $1,500. Costs can be higher depending on the difficulty of getting under a slab and installing piping to release the radon safely through a roof vent. Other work can include sealing areas where radon is encroaching into a home.

New Law Requires Radon Test Disclosure

A new radon disclosure law could put Minnesota on the path of one day eliminating a hidden health risk in the state, where 40 percent of homes contain unsafe levels of the gas.

Starting Jan. 1, anyone who sells a home will be asked if their home has ever been tested for the toxic gas. Currently home sellers simply must report whether they are aware of a radon problem.

Public health officials hope the question will spur more buyers – and sellers – to pursue radon testing because disclosure forms will not make it clear that many homes have never been tested. Test kids typically cost less than $25.

There’s no debate that radon causes lung cancer. The naturally occurring radioactive gas, which can seep into homes from the ground and contaminate the air, has been classified as a carcinogen for more than two decades.

The Minnesota Department of Health estimates that long-term exposure to radon gas kills 700 people in the state annually.

Our View: Don't Wait for Legislature to Require Radon Testing

In 2007, Minnesota became the first state in the nation to pass a law requiring all new homes to be built with radon mitigation systems. Rep. Kim Norton, then a first-term DFLer from Rochester, was the legislation's chief author, and since then, six other states, including Illinois, Michigan and Oregon, have followed Minnesota's lead.

There was good reason for Norton and Minnesota to take this step. Radon is an odorless, colorless gas that is the leading cause of lung cancer in nonsmokers, killing 21,000 Americans each year. It seeps in through cracks in basement walls, floors and foundations, and Minnesota (especially Olmsted County) has some of the highest radon levels in the nation. About 40 percent of homes tested in Minnesota are found to have radon levels that are high enough to require a mitigation system that pipes the gas out of the house.

Obviously, the best time to install such a system is while a home is being built and definitely before the basement is finished.

Experts Stress Radon Gas Awareness

Andrew Gilbert wants Minnesotans to test for radon.

A colorless, odorless and radioactive gas that comes from soil, radon is the leading cause of lung cancer among non-smokers in the United States, according to the Minnesota Department of Health.

“We need to stress that this is a persistent health risk in Minnesota,” said Gilbert, a radon program specialist at the MDH.

Minnesota and several other states require homes to have working carbon monoxide detectors, but most states don’t mandate radon testing.

“Ironically, the risk from dying from radon that you are exposed to in the home is about 70 times greater than dying from carbon monoxide exposure in the home,” said Bill Angell, a University of Minnesota professor who has studied indoor air quality and radon extensively.

The MDH estimates one in three Minnesota homes has radon levels that pose a severe health risk for people over many years of exposure, and experts say testing is needed.

Radon Worries Drive Health Department's New Builder Program

Radon Worries Drive Health Department's New Builder Program

St. Paul, Minn. — Minnesota has some of the strictest rules in the nation for mitigating radon gas in homes. But the state Department of Health is concerned the rules don't go far enough, and it's now asking builders to voluntarily install attic fans that can draw out the toxic gas.

The naturally occurring gas is odorless, invisible, and found in soils throughout Minnesota, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that as many as 800 Minnesotans die each year from radon-induced lung cancer.

Even so, only a few builders have signed on to the MDH program, which is aimed at augmenting the passive radon vents required by Minnesota law.

Dean Hanson of Hanson Builders, who has been in business for 32 years, said the agency offered to give him a discount on radon-venting fans if he agreed to install them in all of the new homes he builds.

Health Officials: Homeowners Should Test for Radon

(ABC 6 NEWS) - Radon is a colorless, odorless radioactive gas that's seeping into homes across our area, and many homeowners have no idea that southern Minnesota and northern Iowa are at a higher risk for the deadly gas.

You can't smell it. You can't taste it. In fact, it's undetectable by all your senses, but if it's in your home, it can be deadly.

"Radon is a class a carcinogen, which means it has a high potential for causing lung cancer. In this case, lung cancer is the specific risk," said Dan DeLano, an Environmental Health Specialist with Olmsted County Public Health.

Radon exposure is the second leading cause of lung cancer after smoking, and causes up to 30,000 deaths every year.

"The only way to find out if you have radon is to do the radon test," said Bryan Hanson, a Project Manager at K&S Heating and Air.

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Minneapolis Targets ‘Silent Killer’ with Radon Kits

The City of Minneapolis will give away more than 250 radon test kits tomorrow to raise awareness about a problem affecting one in three Minnesota homes.

The Minnesota Department of Human Services will donate the kits and will also be providing safety tips for the public.

Radon gas, which is odorless, colorless and tasteless, is called a "silent killer." Prolonged exposure is the leading cause of lung cancer for nonsmokers.

Last May, Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., introduced the Indoor Radon Exposure Abatement and Detection Act. Fashioned after a Minnesota law, the bill would set national standards for radon testing and create a rebate program for installation of mitigation systems in new homes.

Since then, the bill hasn’t made much progress, but state Rep. Kim Norton, DFL-Rochester, who worked on the Minnesota Radon Bill, said she remains confident in rising public awareness.

Radon law to take effect

When Cecil Keen moved into his Mankato home, he did a radon test in the basement.

“It was off the charts,” said Keen, a professor in the geography department at Minnesota State University.

Keen hired a contractor for $1,500 to mitigate the problem by installing a pipe and fan system to vent the deadly gas from under the basement slab out through the roof.

That experience and ongoing MSU research showing a majority of Mankato homes with high radon levels led Keen and others to successfully push for a state law that requires all new homes to be built with radon mitigation.

The new regulations go into effect June 1.

Read More

Is that granite counter in your home emitting radon?

Fears about granite surfaces are largely unfounded, experts say, but a test can quell homeowners' worries.

Homeowners seeking just the right granite for their countertops have something new to ponder, besides which color complements their cabinets. Some are wondering about the radiation and radon gas that might be emanating from those showy slabs.

The topic sent online forums buzzing last summer after a few high-profile media reports, including a New York Times story featuring a doctor who removed her granite after it tested high for radiation, then replaced it with a different granite.

Now scientists, including a Minnesota physicist, are testing slabs, producing papers and debating each other's findings. The Marble Institute of America recently announced it will launch a "Home Approved Stone" program to reassure consumers about granite's safety. And radon professionals say some homeowners now want their countertops tested along with the rest of the house.