Radon is a colorless, odorless radioactive gas that seeps up from the earth. When inhaled, it gives off radioactive particles that can damage the cells that line the lung. Long-term exposure to radon can lead to lung cancer. In fact, over 21,000 lung cancer deaths in the US each year are from radon, making it a serious health concern for all Minnesotans. The Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) has created this guide to explain the health risks of radon and why it is important for every home in Minnesota to be tested.
Where does radon gas come from?
The soil. 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 a radioactive gas…radon. As a gas, radon moves up through the soil and into the air you breathe.
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. Your home can have radon whether it be old or new, well-sealed or drafty, and with or without a basement.
How dangerous is radon?
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.
How does radon enter a home?
Since radon is produced from soil, it is present nearly everywhere. Because soil is porous radon gas is able to move up through the dirt and rocks and into the air we breathe. If allowed to accumulate, radon becomes a health concern.
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 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.
What happens after radon gets into the home?
Radon levels are often highest at the entry point-typically in the lower part of a building. As radon gas moves upward, diffusion, natural air movements and mechanical equipment (such as forced-air ventilation system) distribute the radon through the home. Radon gas becomes more diluted in the upper levels of the home because there is more fresh air for it to mix with.
Greater dilution and less house vacuum effect occur when the house is more open to the outdoors, as during the non-heating season. This generally results in lower indoor radon levels in the summer compared to the winter.
Understanding how radon moves through the home environment helps to explain why timing and location are important factors to consider when conducting a radon test.
How serious a problem is radon in Minnesota?
High radon exist in every state in the US. In Minnesota, 2 in 5 homes has radon levels that pose a significant health risk, and nearly 80% of counties are rated high radon zones. Some factors that further contribute to Minnesota’s high radon levels include:
- Minnesota’s geology produces an ongoing supply of radon.
- Minnesota’s climate affects how our homes are built and operate.
Three ways to protect you and your family:
- Test your home – obtain a test kit
- Reduce your exposure – reduce radon gas by taking action to reduce radon entry into your home
- Protect your loved ones – tell your family and friends to test so they are not exposed to a deadly gas in their homes.