Red Lake DNR: Indoor Air Quality and Radon
Indoor air quality is important because most of us spend the majority of our time indoors. Indoor air quality can be effected by many things, including (but not limited to) how tightly the home is sealed, whether there are pets in the home, building materials, and the presence of pests. Another possible issue with indoor air is elevated radon levels. Radon is a gas that seeps up from the earth into our homes. Radon is a concern because long-term exposure can lead lung cancer, even in otherwise healthy people.
Where radon gas comes from
Radon is naturally produced in the soil, as a breakdown product of uranium (which is found in nearly all types of soil). When uranium breaks down it forms radium, and as radium disintegrates it turns into the radioactive gas we call radon.
How we are exposed to radon
Because radon is everywhere and because it is a colorless, odorless radioactive gas, we can be exposed without even knowing it. Radon concentrates indoors, so our greatest exposure happens while we are inside. Moreover, 1 in 3 homes in Minnesota have radon levels that pose a significant health risk. Factors that contribute to Minnesota’s high radon levels include:
Minnesota’s geology produces an ongoing supply of radon
Minnesota’s climate affects how our homes are built and how they operate
Radon can come into our homes through our floors and walls – anywhere that there is an opening between the soil and our home. Examples of these openings are unsealed sumps, dirt floor crawl spaces, and tiny cracks in concrete block walls. The following are major radon entry routes into our homes:
A. Cracks in concrete slabs.
B. Spaces behind brick veneer walls that rest on uncapped hollow-block foundations.
C. Pores and cracks in concrete blocks.
D. Floor-wall joints.
E. Exposed soil, as in a sump or crawl space.
F. Weeping (drain) tile, if drained to an open sump.
G. Mortar joints.
H. Loose fitting pipe penetrations.
I. Open tops of block walls.
J. Building materials, such as brick, concrete, rock.
K. Well water (not commonly a major source in Minnesota homes).
How to test for radon
Although there is no known safe level of radon gas in the home, the Environmental Protection Agency and Minnesota Department of Health set the recommended action level for radon at 4.0 pCi/L – which means if a tested level is over this amount, something should be done to reduce the level. It is easy to test for radon – tests are widely available at stores such as hardware and home supply stores, or online. Just follow the instructions on the package for either short or long term testing (depending on the test kit).
What can we do?
There are things we can do to keep our family safe by reducing the radon in our homes. Sealing cracks in our foundations or using air exchangers can help temporarily reduce radon levels. Housing or a contractor will be able to install a mitigation system that will be a more permanent solution.
Information and images were provided by the Minnesota Department of Health. For more information on the dangers of radon, visit their website http://www.health.state.mn.us or contact Jennifer Godwin at the Red Lake Department of Natural Resources (218) 679-3959 or the Housing Authority.