Radon Education/Test Kits
Wright County Public Health provides information on radon and how to protect your family's health through community education and offering test kits at a reduced price. The U.S. Surgeon General, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) recommend that every Minnesota home be tested for radon.
In the year 2000, 178 Wright County homes were tested for elevated radon levels. Of the homes tested, 52 percent were found to contain radon concentration levels higher than 4 picocuries per liter. On a nationwide level, Wright County sits on the very edge of the zone considered to have the highest potential for elevated levels of indoor radon gas. In Minnesota, radon is not regulated so it is up to homeowners to decide for themselves how much radon is acceptable for their home.
It is a naturally occurring, radioactive gas. Radon is tasteless, colorless, and odorless, so it is undetectable by our senses. Radon is released from the natural breakdown of uranium and radium in our soil, rock, and water. Elevated levels of radon have been found in homes in every state. Radon is able to get into any type of building and build up to high levels. Homes that are new or old, drafty or air tight, big or small, and with or without a basement are all just as likely to have a radon problem.
There are no known immediate symptoms from radon, whereas health problems are often seen after long exposures to elevated levels of radon indoors. In the outdoor air it is harmlessly dispersed. When radon in the air is inhaled into the lungs the process of radioactive decay begins. This leads to the DNA of our sensitive lung tissue being damaged both physically and chemically. Scientists and researchers categorize radon as a Group A carcinogen meaning that there is no known acceptable level of exposure and that it has been demonstrated to cause cancer. Other Group A carcinogens include tobacco smoke and asbestos. It is believed to be the second leading cause of lung cancer with about 21,000 people dying each year from lung cancer caused by radon. Smokers exposed to elevated levels of radon have a much greater risk of developing lung cancer than non-smokers. About 20 percent of the adult populations in Wright County are smokers.
Much of the upper Midwest soil contains widespread uranium and radium, which are the minerals that continuously breakdown to release RN gas into the air we breathe. Radon levels in MN are believed to be on average 2-2.5 times higher than the rest of the country. Reasons for this include the facts that Minnesota's soil composition has extensive deposits of uranium and radium, the construction techniques used in building our homes, and the change of seasons we experience. During the heating season, pressure differences from inside to outside the home create a higher likelihood of elevated radon levels in the indoor air. The Minnesota Department of Health estimates that 1 in 3 Minnesota homes have elevated levels of radon. Radon accounts for our largest exposure to radiation in our day-to-day lives. The good news is homeowners can inexpensively test for radon and can reduce the risk of exposure.
There first needs to be a source under the home that is strong enough that with certain conditions the gas may enter the home from the soil. Because radon is a gas, it is able to easily move through spaces in the soil or fill material around a home’s foundation. Radon may enter a home anywhere there is an opening between the home and soil. These openings include cracks in a foundation, floor drains, sump pumps, dirt floor crawl spaces, and numerous others. The amount of radon in the home will vary according to the amount of radon in the source material and the rate at which it is able to enter the building.
Radon is a gas, so as it enters the home, it moves freely throughout the indoor air and people can breathe it into their lungs. The further the gas moves throughout the home, the more diluted Radon will be in the air we breath. The level of radon is often highest in the lowest part of a building.
The EPA states that any radon exposure carries some risk; no level of radon exposure is always safe. However, EPA recommends homes be fixed if an occupant's long-term exposure will average 4 picocuries per liter (pCi/L) or higher.
Anyone can use a "do-it-yourself" test kit to check his or her home. There are short-term and long-term test kits available. Short-term test kits should remain in the building from two to seven days, depending on the device. Weather conditions and opening and closing of windows will affect radon levels within a building. Using the short-term test will give the homeowner a snapshot of the home's radon level. The long-term test (3-12 months), gives the user a year-round average level of radon. The best way to estimate the year-round average of radon in a home is to test for a full year. Results from long-term radon tests can realistically be used to decide whether or not to mitigate a home. The EPA recommends that for homes, initial measurements be short-term tests placed in the lowest lived-in level. Short-term testing in closed building conditions helps residents quickly learn if a home has high levels of radon.
Homeowners can contact a qualified radon reduction contractor if they are concerned about the high levels of radon found in their home. There are several things they can do; sealing cracks and other openings in the foundation is a simple way to start. This by itself will not lower the levels consistently or significantly. Venting units including fans and pipes, called sub-slab depressurization, is used most often and effectively to reduce levels of radon. The most efficient method will depend on the home's design and the specific cause of the problem.
Wright County Public Health can provide a list of certified mitigation specialists in your area. The Minnesota Department of Health also has this information on their website. Radon problems usually can be repaired for about the same amount as other common home repairs (washer or dryer, new hot water heater installed). On average, mitigation services will cost between $200 and $2,500. The price is largely dependent on your home’s construction and the strength of the radon source.
Simple and economical techniques can reduce radon levels on average by 50 percent. Techniques used in safeguarding against radon may in fact also decrease the potential for basement moisture problems. It seems only logical that new homes use radon resistant techniques because of the reduced levels of radon and it is much more cost effective than retrofitting an existing home. This will add about $350 to $500 to the cost of the home. Ask your builder if they are currently using radon-resistant construction techniques.
Radon test kits can be purchased at most hardware stores. Also, Wright County Public Health is selling radon test kits at a reduced price to Wright County residents. Short-term test kits are $6, and long-term test kits are $12 when purchased from Wright County Public Health. If you are interested in purchasing a test kit, you can do one of the following:
Minnesota Department of Health
Air Chek Radon Test Kits