Cancer survivors, health officials teaming up to prevent lung cancer by promoting radon testing
January is Radon Action Month and a good time to test your home
Public health organizations and lung cancer survivors are working together this month to relay a simple but potentially life-saving message to Minnesotans statewide: protect yourself and your family from lung cancer by testing your home for radon.
Radon is an odorless, colorless radioactive gas, and it is the leading cause of lung cancer in nonsmokers. Radon occurs naturally in Minnesota soils, and enters homes through cracks or openings in walls or foundations. The only way to know if your home has high radon levels is to test. Radon is a problem across Minnesota, so residents in every county should test their home.
January is National Radon Action Month and Governor Mark Dayton has proclaimed January as Radon Action Month in Minnesota. Throughout the month, the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) is urging Minnesotans to test their homes. In addition, MDH is partnering with local public health departments to make test kits available to Minnesotans at low or no cost. Health officials are also working with A Breath of Hope Lung Foundation, American Cancer Society, American Lung Association and the Minnesota Cancer Alliance to promote radon testing and reduction.
“After tobacco, exposure to radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer,” said Greg Voss, executive director of the American Lung Association in Minnesota. “We urge all Minnesotans to test their homes for radon and continue to call for building practices that reduce the risk of radon exposure in Minnesota homes.”
Radon is linked to more than 21,000 lung cancer deaths in the U.S. each year. According to A Breath of Hope Lung Foundation, lung cancer is the world’s deadliest cancer and most people are diagnosed in the later stages when it is difficult to beat. Less than 18 percent of lung cancer patients live five years or more after diagnosis, and 2,500 Minnesotans die each year from lung cancer. Approximately half of those who develop lung cancer never smoked or had already quit.
“A Breath of Hope Lung Foundation is grateful to work side-by-side with MDH to help Minnesotans understand the importance of testing for unsafe levels of radon in their homes,” said A Breath of Hope Lung Foundation Executive Director Nancy Torrison. “Minnesota has unusually high levels of radon in its soil. It is critical that families protect themselves by testing, and then mitigating if necessary.”
In homes found to have high radon levels, mitigation typically involves installing a ventilating pipe and fan to pull the gas out of the home. This reduces the amount of radon in the home to safe levels.
“Radon is common in Minnesota,” said Matt Flory of the American Cancer Society. “My house tested off the charts, but the problem was effectively and affordably mitigated by professional contractors.”
Bonnie Mueller, a lung cancer survivor, is sharing her story publicly to raise awareness of lung cancer and radon. After being diagnosed with lung cancer, she tested her home and cabin, learning that her cabin had a very high level of radon.
“One of the many doctors I saw during my initial prognosis asked if I had ever been exposed to radon,” Mueller said. “I didn’t know much about radon, let alone if I had ever been exposed to it. We tested our house and our cabin. The cabin showed we had radon levels four times higher than the action level.
“I want to encourage everyone to have their house tested,” Mueller said. “The radon system we installed in our house immediately reduced the radon levels. The expense of a radon system is much cheaper than the cost of living with Stage IV lung cancer. Prevention is so much easier and far less painful than the road I have traveled. A simple thing like getting your house tested for radon can make all the difference.”
Analysis of test data from 2010-2016 found that about 40 percent of Minnesota homes have dangerous levels of radon (4 pCi/L or above). The analysis found that the average radon level in Minnesota homes is about 4.5 pCi/L compared to 1.3 pCi/L nationwide. To help residents get a more accurate picture of radon levels in their county, MDH offers an interactive map tool in the Minnesota Public Health Data Access portal.
Radon testing is inexpensive, easy and quick (often just 3-7 days). The best time to test is during the heating seasons, but testing can be done year-round. Renters should also test their homes or ask their landlords to test, especially those in ground or garden level units.
Test kits are available at city and county health departments, many hardware stores, or directly from radon testing laboratories. A list of participating health agencies and test kit vendors can be found on the MDH website at Local Radon Contacts.
Tests should be done in the lowest level of the home that is frequently occupied. If your home’s test results show it is at or above 4 picocuries per liter (or pCi/L), you should install a radon reduction system. MDH has a list of certified radon reduction contractors at Radon Contractors/Mitigation Service Providers.
“Radon testing and mitigation has increased in recent years,” said Dan Tranter, supervisor of the Indoor Air Program for MDH. “Unfortunately, many people are still being exposed to high levels of radioactive radon who don’t know it.”
For more information on radon testing and mitigation, visit Radon in Minnesota Homes or call the Minnesota Department of Health Indoor Air Unit at 651-201-4601 or 1-800-798-9050. To learn more about how lung cancer has affected the lives of people, visit A Breath of Hope or call Nancy Torrison at 952-405-9201.