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What is radon?

RadonIt is a naturally occurring, radioactive gas. Radon is tasteless, colorless, and odorless, so it is undetectable by our senses. Radon is produced from the natural decay of uranium that is found in nearly all soils. Uranium breaks down to radium. As radium disintegrates it turns into radioactive gas...radon. As a gas, radon moves up through the soil and into the air you breathe. 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.

What are the health effects associated with Radon?

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. Radon is the number one cause of lung cancer in non-smokers and the second leading cause of lung cancer (after tobacco) in smokers. Thankfully, this risk should be entirely preventable through awareness and testing.

Did you Know...
Exposure in a home that has as little as 4 pCi/L, the EPA action level, is like receiving 200 chest x-rays per year. (AARST, 2004)

Where is your greatest exposure to radon?

While radon is present everywhere, and there is no known, safe level, your greatest exposure is where it can concentrate-indoors and where you spend most time-at home.

How serious a problem is radon in Minnesota?

High radon exists in every state in the US. In Minnesota, 2 in 5 homes have radon levels that pose a significant health risk, and nearly 80% of counties are rated high radon zones.

Below is Benton County radon data from completed test kits

Completed # of tests: 45 (as of November 2013)
Tests above 4.0pCi/L: 15 (33.33%)

How does radon enter a home?

Since radon is produced from soil, it is present nearly everywhere. Because soil is absorbent, radon gas is able to move up through the dirt and rocks, enters the home and moves freely throughout the indoor air in which we breathe. The further the gas moves through the home, the more diluted Radon will be in the air we breathe. If allowed to accumulate, radon becomes a health concern. The level of radon is often highest in the lowest part of a building.

Two components that affect how much radon will accumulate in a home are pathways and air pressure. These components will differ from home to home.

  • Pathways are routes the gas uses to enter your home and are found anywhere there is an opening between the home and the soil.
  • Air pressure between your home's interior and the exterior soil is what helps to draw radon gas into the home via pathways.


How can I find out if my home has a radon problem?

Radon Test KitAnyone 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 home for two to seven days, depending on the device. Weather conditions and opening and closing of windows will affect radon levels within a home. 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.

How can I fix my home if it does have elevated 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.

How do I choose a radon mitigation contractor? How much will it cost?

The Minnesota Department of Health 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.

When building a new home, what can be done to assure reduced radon levels in the future?

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.

Where can I purchase a radon kit?

Radon test kits can be purchased at most hardware stores and range in price from $5 to $25. Benton County Public Health is selling radon test kits at a reduced price to Benton County residents. Short-term test kits are $5, and long-term test kits are $15 when purchased from Public Health. Benton County has a limited supply of test kits. If you are interested in purchasing a test kit please call Julie at 320-968-5147.

If you are not a Benton County resident, please call your local public health department and ask about radon test kits.

Helpful links
Minnesota Department of Health

Additional Materials

Air Chek Radon Test Kits