radon in Minnesota
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.
It almost sounds like the trailer for a B horror movie.
Cue scary music.
Deep voice: It could invade your home, and you won’t even know it. You can’t see it, smell it or hear it. And it could kill you.
The people at the American Lung Association and the Duluth Healthy Homes Partnership don’t want to scare anyone. But all of the above is true of radon, a naturally occurring radioactive gas that happens to occur quite a bit in Minnesota.
Starting in 2009, the Minnesota State Building Code adopted Appendix F of the International Residential Code. Since then, all new homes built to the standards of the Minnesota State Building Code have been built with at least a passive radon mitigation system, or in some cases, an active system. This was done to help deal with high levels of radon in Minnesota; approximately 40% of homes in Minnesota have elevated levels of radon gas.
A dangerous gas is seeping into homes throughout Steele County — a gas that carries adverse health effects — and the homeowners may not be aware of it.
According to data from the Minnesota Department of Health, high levels of radon — an odorless, tasteless and invisible gas that has been known to cause lung cancer — are present in 67 percent of the homes in Steele County.
Two-thirds of the homes in Steele County have levels of at least 4 picocuries per liter. A picocurie is one-trillionth of a curie, an international unit of measurement for radioactivity. Dan Tranter, supervisor of the Indoor Air Unit at the state’s health department, said radon poses a risk to those living in high concentrations.
In a July 19 counterpoint (“Despite a Star Tribune story, radon is a diminishing risk”), Chad Kompelien, president of the Builders Association of Minnesota, claims that since 2009, some buyers of new Minnesota homes have had to pay for a passive radon control system they’ve never needed. There are serious shortcomings in this claim.
First, there are more U.S. homes with elevated indoor radon than any time in our history, because many new homes are sold each year with high radon concentrations. Unless builders install effective radon-control systems, they will continue to create a greater risk of radon-induced lung cancer for their customers.
A new state building code that took effect a few years ago was supposed to reduce the risk of radon exposure in Minnesota, where roughly 40 percent of homes tested come back at unsafe levels.
Still, health officials were concerned that the code left some homeowners exposed to potentially deadly levels of the cancer-causing gas.
It turns out that the mitigation systems required in new homes by the 2009 code change aren’t always effective at reducing radon levels below the federal health safety standard.
Roughly one in five new homes with the passive radon mitigation systems had radon levels above 4.0 picocuries per liter, according to preliminary results of a state Health Department study launched last fall. That’s above the level that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency considers safe.
“That’s still a quarter of our population being highly exposed to something that gives lung cancer,’’ said Joshua Miller, manager of the department’s radon program.
ST. PAUL, Minn. - A bill designed to increase awareness of radon for people buying a home in Minnesota has passed the state legislature.
The bill's author, State Representative Carolyn Laine, DFL-Columbia Heights tells KARE 11 the house passed the bill late last week. The bill is expected to be signed into to law by Governor Mark Dayton this week.
The bill, also known as the Radon Awareness Act, requires sellers to provide information to buyers about any history of radon testing and mitigation in the home, along with literature explaining the dangers of radon.
In a recent KARE 11 Extra, health experts claimed radon gas caused about 700 deaths a year in Minnesota and 21,000 nationwide. They believe it is the second leading death of lung cancer in the United States and the highest among non-smokers.
An estimated one in three Minnesota homes harbors high levels of radon. However, testing for the radioactive gas before buying or selling a home can lead to reduced health risks, according to the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH).
Radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer in the United States, with more than 21,000 deaths attributable to radon each year. It is the greatest environmental cancer risk and the leading cause of lung cancer among non-smokers. Yet radon exposure is largely preventable.
MDH estimates that one in three Minnesota homes have radon levels that pose a considerable health risk of lung cancer over many years of exposure. Homes with high radon levels are fixable, but first they must be tested. MDH is highlighting radon testing during National Public Health Week, April 1 through 7.
Testing for radon during the sale of a home is an opportune time:
Wes and Mary Anne Bry moved their three daughters to Lakeville 18 years ago, thinking their new house on a quiet cul-de-sac would be a dream home.
But last September, just days before their 30th wedding anniversary, Wes was diagnosed with advanced lung cancer and he began to wonder.
Wes, who is 60, had never smoked, and an Internet search led him to radon gas, the nation's second-leading cause of lung cancer. The Brys bought a test kit at a local hardware store, placed it in their basement -- and learned that the house where they have lived for nearly two decades has radon levels roughly three times above the federal safety level.
"I alerted all my neighbors," said Mary Anne. "Anybody I know ... I say: 'You should be doing this test.'"
State health officials are equally alarmed that, despite years of effort by their colleagues, thousands of other Minnesotans remain unaware of the health risks from the odorless, colorless gas.
You can't see it or smell it. It occurs naturally anywhere there's soil. It seeps into your home, exposing you to radioactive particles.
And it's the second-leading cause of lung cancer.
Yet radon remains an underappreciated risk.
"It's been a long time that we've focused on smoking and lung cancer, with good reason," said Dr. Peter Raynor, an associate professor at the University of Minnesota's School of Public Health. "When you're then taking a look at something that's the next level down, it's going to get less attention."
Public health officials are trying to change that.
January nationally has been deemed "Radon Action Month." The Minnesota Department of Health, with help from local government agencies, has launched a campaign to increase awareness and encourage homeowners to test for the invisible gas.