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Two in five Minnesota homes have high radon levels posing cancer risks

Radon is leading cause of lung cancer in people who never smoked

More than 40% of Minnesota homes have dangerously high radon levels. That concerns health officials, because radon — an odorless, colorless radioactive gas — is the leading cause of lung cancer in people who have never smoked.

Together with public health organizations across the country, the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH), the American Cancer Society, A Breath of Hope Lung Foundation and the American Lung Association urge homeowners and renters alike to test their home for radon in January, during National Radon Action Month.

“The only way to know if your home has high radon levels is to test, but only about 1% or 2% of Minnesota homes are tested annually,” said Dr. Brooke Cunningham, Commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Health. “Another concern is that, although radon occurs throughout the state, there are notable disparities in where the testing and mitigation are taking place.”

Interactive maps on the MDH website show that in the Twin Cities metro area, testing and mitigation are less frequent in communities with lower incomes and more renters. Statewide, they are lower in Minnesota’s northern and southwestern regions.

Minnesota has unusually high radon levels due to its unique geology and cold climate. The average radon level in Minnesota is more than three times higher than the U.S. radon level: 4.2 pCi/L (picocuries of radon per liter of air) compared to 1.3 pCi/L.

A recent American Lung Association analysis estimated that in 2018, 638 lung cancer cases in Minnesota were radon-induced (17.8%), out of the 3,587 lung cancer cases diagnosed.

“Radon is a serious public health issue in Minnesota, and we urge everyone to test their home for radon this month,” said Jill Heins-Nesvold, national senior director of Health Systems Improvement and Indoor Air Quality at the American Lung Association.

Testing is easy and inexpensive

MDH expects to send out more than 6,000 kits to health departments and other partners, who will distribute them statewide at low or no cost. Test kits also can be purchased at hardware and home improvement stores or ordered at Licensed professionals can conduct testing, too.

“Radon is the number one cause of lung cancer in never-smokers,” said Nancy Torrison, executive director of A Breath of Hope Lung Foundation. “We will continue to educate the public about radon testing and mitigation in hopes that one day, Minnesota's families and homes are safe from this naturally occurring deadly gas.”

In the winter, home heating systems tend to draw in radon gas from the soil, increasing radon levels inside the home. Many Minnesotans also use basements as living spaces, which can increase radon exposure. Renters, especially those in ground or garden level units, should test their homes or ask their landlords to test. Although testing can be done year-round, the best time to test is during the heating season.

In homes found to have high radon levels, the fix typically involves installing a ventilating pipe and fan to pull air out from under the home. This reduces the amount of radon entering the home.

“I tested my house, and the result was 9, which is above the action level of 4 pCi/L,” said Matt Flory, associate director of State Partnerships at the American Cancer Association. “I hired a professional. They installed a radon system, which reduced radon to a low level.”

Radon poster contest winners announced

Efforts to raise awareness about the dangers of radon also included a Minnesota Radon Poster Contest this year. The contest was open to youth ages 9 to 14. The top three entries in Minnesota were:

• First place: Brooklyn, Plymouth, “The Smell.”

• Second place: Samantha, St. Cloud, “Outsmart Lung Cancer, Invite Purrfessionals to Check for Radon!”

• Third place: Emily, Hayfield, “Radon Awareness.”

The Minnesota winner was also selected the winner of the national radon poster contest.

More information

More information about radon in Minnesota is available on Radon in Homes website or by calling the MDH Indoor Air Unit at 651-201-4601 or 1-800-798-9050.



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