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Radon in homes is a common, preventable cancer risk

Common misconceptions could be undermining testing, leading to lung cancer.

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According to MDH data, only 0.4% of Hubbard County properties have been tested for radon. Based on these tests, it is estimated that 39.3% of homes in the county have radon levels at or above 4 pCi/L. Minnesota Department of Health, Jan. 6, 2022
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January is “Radon Action Month.” The Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) is urging everyone to test their home for radon.

According to a media release, the colorless, odorless gas occurs naturally in Minnesota soils and is found at elevated levels in nearly 40% of homes in the state. It is also the leading cause of lung cancer among non-smokers.

Each year, this unwelcome house guest kills more than 21,000 people across the country. Though there are cheap and easy ways to test for radon, many people are unaware of the risks and may not be getting the help they need to be safe, the release states.

Meanwhile, the radon risk is largely preventable through testing, improved ventilation and other measures. With more people working from home, testing is more important than ever to determine if a home’s radon levels present a health risk.

Dan Tranter, supervisor of the MDH Indoor Air Program, said many people are unknowingly exposed to high levels of radon, putting them at risk for lung cancer, while several common misunderstandings discourage people from testing their homes for radon.

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For example, many people think their home does not need to be tested, or if they test once they don’t need to test again, or if their neighbor’s radon level is low, they don’t need to test.

Testing should be conducted in all homes, regardless of foundation type, soil type, age, presence of an air exchanger or insulation, Tranter said. Even if the initial test shows the radon level is low, it’s a good idea to retest at least every five years, because levels may change.

Homes with mitigation systems should also be retested, he said. Monitors on mitigation systems do not show the radon level, so the homes should be retested at least every two years.

New homes are built with radon resistant features, but they can still have elevated radon and should be tested, the release states.

MDH is partnering with local public health departments and other organizations to make test kits available at low or no cost. Participating agencies and vendors can be found at data.web.health.state.mn.us/web/mndata/radon, along with maps showing statewide radon testing levels by county and census tract.

Hubbard County’s levels are high

According to the census tract map, radon levels are slightly higher in the northern portion of Hubbard County than in the rest of the county.

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In this census tract across northern Hubbard County, 15 of 2,456 homes have been tested for radon, averaging levels of 61.1 parts per 10,000. Minnesota Department of Health, Jan. 6, 2022

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Statewide data shows the average radon level in Minnesota homes is about 4.5 pCi/L compared to 1.3 pCi/L nationwide.

Meanwhile, only 1-2% of homes in Minnesota are tested annually; health officials recommend testing at least 20% annually. They also find that testing and mitigation are less frequent among communities with lower incomes and more renters.

Health professionals recommend radon testing during real estate transactions, the release states. Sellers must disclose any prior radon testing under state law. The MDH recommends including radon tests in home inspections and provides a list of licensed radon measurement professionals at www.health.state.mn.us/communities/environment/air/radon/findprof.html.

Tests should be done in the lowest level of the home that is frequently occupied. Test devices are usually placed in the home for two to five days. The best time to test is during the heating season.

In homes with high radon levels, radon reduction typically involves installing a venting pipe and fan to pull the gas from under the home to the outside. Professionals conducting radon mitigation must be licensed by the MDH, follow standards and affix an MDH tag to the system. For a list of licensed radon mitigation professionals, visit www.health.state.mn.us/communities/environment/air/radon/mitigation.html.

The MDH does free inspections of radon mitigation systems installed after June 1, 2020, to ensure systems were installed correctly and meet minimum requirements. To request an inspection or for more information, contact the MDH Indoor Air Unit at health.indoorair@state.mn.us, call 651-201-4601 or 800-798-9050, or visit www.health.state.mn.us/communities/environment/air/radon/index.html.

010822.N.PRE.HCCensusTractRadon.jpg
In this census tract across northern Hubbard County, 15 of 2,456 homes have been tested for radon, averaging levels of 61.1 parts per 10,000. Minnesota Department of Health, Jan. 6, 2022

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