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Feature

Surgeon General's radon warning.

January is Radon Action Month. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has released a new Public Service Announcement campaign for radon, which features the U.S. Surgeon General's warning that radon causes lung cancer and that you should test your home.

Radon in your home?

By Bill Angell

From eNews, Jan. 11, 2007

Winter is the best time to test your home for radon. Radon, a radioactive gas that comes from the natural breakdown of radium (a decay product of uranium), is the leading cause of lung cancer among non-smokers and the second leading cause of lung cancer in the United States, claiming more than 20,000 lives annually. Minnesota is the fourth highest state with radon levels above the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) "threshold for action levels." A recent "pooled" analysis of residential radon lung cancer studies by members of the World Health Organization's International Radon Project is probably the most definitive residential radon risk assessment in our lifetime. Everyone involved in the study agrees that the scientific foundation for our understanding of the dangers of lung cancer from radon exposure in the home is greater than previously thought. At the current radon action level used in the United States (1.3 picocuries per liter), the average person has at least 1 in 50 chance of contracting lung cancer from radon exposure in homes. (According to the EPA, the average indoor radon level is about 1.3 pCi/L in the United States; the average outdoor level is about 0.4 pCi/L.) You should test your home for radon now--not when you want to sell your home. Short-term testing is best done when homes are closed up--and in Minnesota, that's winter. The major source of high levels of radon in houses is in the soil surrounding the house, according to the University of Minnesota Extension Service. The radon gas from the soil enters the house--or building--through cracks in the foundation floor, walls, drains, sumps, joints or other openings.

Radon expertise at the U

The Midwest Universities Radon Consortium at the University of Minnesota is one of four U.S. EPA Regional Radon Training Centers. It offers training on the health risks posed by radon and on radon mitigating methods. For more information about the center and its 2006-07 courses, visit the Radon Center.

And if you're a prospective home buyer, insist on a radon test. This applies even when you're buying a new home. Research has shown no difference in radon levels between new and existing homes in Minnesota. But if you're building a new home, you'll want to incorporate radon-resistant construction features. This can be done for $300 to $500, a cost much less than fixing a radon problem once the home is built. Testing is easy and inexpensive. You can get information about testing from local public health offices, state health offices and the EPA. In Minnesota, go to the Minnesota Department of Health; see www.epa.gov/radon for detailed information from the EPA. You can also order radon-testing kits from http://mn.radon.com.


Bill Angell is a professor and housing specialist with the University of Minnesota Extension Service. He is also chair of the World Health Organization's International Radon Project Mitigation and Prevention Working Group, president of the American Association of Radon Scientists and Technologists, and director of the Midwest Universities Radon Consortium (see sidebar).