Radon is the leading cause of lung cancer in nonsmokers and the second leading cause of lung cancer in smokers. It is estimated that Radon causes about 20,000 lung cancer deaths in the US per year.
Radon is a colorless, odorless radioactive gas that is generated in soil and is found naturally in the environment. When Radon gas is inhaled into the lungs, it can give off radioactive particles than may cause lung cancer.
Since Radon is a gas, it can seep into homes, usually through the basement where there is contact with the soil. Because of the architecture and venting of some homes, Radon has the ability to build up in concentration inside the home. It is estimated that one out of every three homes in Minnesota has elevated Radon levels.
Any house can have high Radon levels depending on the architecture of the house and the components of the soil around the house.
Because houses in Minnesota are typically heated in the winter, the heat rising out of the upper levels of a home can draw gas in from the soil under the home. Additionally, when air is forced out of a home through appliances or ventilation systems, that air is sometimes replaced by air coming into the house through the soil. This “vacuum effect” can cause a buildup of Radon in homes.
With all the variables involved, it is difficult to predict if a house will have high Radon levels. Fortunately, there are test kits that allow homeowners to test Radon levels inside their homes.
The Minnesota Department of Health recommends that all houses be tested for Radon. Short-term and long-term test kits are available and range from $5 to $25. Hiring a professional to perform a Radon test is also an option. It is recommended houses be tested at least every 5 years.
For more information on how to obtain a Radon Test Kit, call the Minnesota Department of Health Indoor Air Unit at 651-201-4601.
If a Radon test kit indicates high Radon levels, this can be addressed through construction efforts that prevent Radon from entering a home or improving ventilation. This is often accomplished by hiring a contractor trained in Radon mitigation.
More information about Radon can be found at www.health.state.mn.us/radon
Ryan M. Harden, MD MS