Radon is a radioactive gas, which means that it continuously decays and releases radiation. It is produced from minerals in soil, such as uranium and radium. Although radon is present throughout the environment, when high levels are present indoors, people are exposed to more of its radiation and their risk of cancer increases.
Radon is not subject to health or environmental regulations in Minnesota, so it is up to homeowners to decide for themselves how much radon is acceptable in their home.
The ionizing radiation radon gives off can harm the cells that make up our body's tissues and organs. The Surgeon General of the United States has warned that radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer in the United States - second only to smoking. For non-smokers in this country, radon is the number one cause of lung cancer.
Much of the soil in the Upper Midwest contains widespread uranium and radium. These minerals continuously break down to release radon gas. Therefore, Minnesota's geology provides an ongoing supply of radon. In addition, a large percentage of Minnesota homes have high levels of radon in the indoor air because of how they are built and how they operate in our climate. The Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) estimates that about one in three (1/3) Minnesota homes has enough radon to pose a significant risk to the occupants' health over many years of exposure.
Because radon is a gas, it is able to move though spaces in the soil or fill material around a home's foundation. Minnesota homes tend to operate under a negative pressure and this negative pressure acts as a vacuum (suction) that pulls soil gases, including radon, into the lower level of the structure.
Once radon enters a home it moves freely throughout the indoor air and people can breathe it into their lungs.
Radon is colorless, odorless and tasteless. Therefore, a radon test is the only way to find out how much radon is in your home. Performing a radon test on your own is easy, inexpensive and can be done privately. MDH recommends that all Minnesota homeowners test their homes for radon. Contact MDH Indoor Air Unit for more information on where to obtain low cost radon test kits, the types of test kits, how to perform tests properly and how to use the results. You may also consult the MDH fact sheet Minnesota Radon Testing and Use of Test Results for more information.
A number of steps can be taken to lower the amount of radon in a home. Contact MDH for information regarding radon mitigation using the contact information below.
MDH recommends that all new homes in Minnesota be built to include radon-resistant construction features that minimize radon entry into the home and make future radon problems easier to fix should they occur. If elevated radon levels are found after you move in, radon-resistant features can be easily activated to become radon reduction systems. Ask your builder if they are currently using radon-resistant construction techniques.
All newly built homes in Minnesota should be tested for radon after they are completed and occupied. Early detection of elevated radon levels can help protect the homeowner's financial interests if the radon problem is due to construction problems and can allow the homeowner to take appropriate actions to lower the radon level and protect the health of their family.
MDH Indoor Air Unit
625 Robert Street North, PO Box 64975
St. Paul, Minnesota 55164-0975
Phone: (651) 201-4601 or (800) 798-9050