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Extension > Environment > Housing Technology > Indoor environmental quality > Radon — Your safe home

Indoor environmental quality

Radon - Your safe home

Marilyn Bode, Former Assistant Extension Housing Specialist, College of Human Ecology; Wanda Olson, Housing Technology Specialist, College of Human Ecology

Our homes are not always safe places. Sometimes things in our homes can be bad for our health. Radon is one of those. Radon is a gas in the air that comes from the ground. It has no taste, smell, or color.

When is radon dangerous?

couch

Radon is dangerous when too much of it gets in the air inside buildings. Radon is also in the air outdoors, but outdoors it is not harmful because it mixes with fresh air. Most radon is in the ground, but is not harmful unless it travels from the ground to the inside of a building. Radon is also in water, but in Minnesota, most drinking water has little radon in it and so it is not dangerous.

What happens when radon gets into our bodies

Radon is part of the air we breathe. But too much of it can damage our lungs. Radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer; only smoking is more harmful to our lungs.

How does radon get into our homes?

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Radon can enter the air in our homes through cracks in the floors and walls, floor drains, or pump openings. Radon is often strongest in basements and ground floor rooms because they are closest to the ground.

 

 

Who is in danger?

playing

Radon is most dangerous to smokers because they can get lung cancer both from smoking and from radon.

Living with someone who smokes is also dangerous because you can get lung cancer both from smoke and radon in the air.

If your home has a basement or rooms underground and you spend a lot of time there, you may be in danger. The more radon in the air of your home and the more time you spend there, the more harmful it is to you.

How can I find out if my home has radon in it?

test-kit

The only way to know is to test. If you have a basement or first floor apartment, or if you live in a house, have your air tested for radon. Test your air even if your neighbor did a test and had safe air. Your house may test differently even if you live next door.

There are two common tests:

  1. The long-term test is recommended by the Minnesota Department of Health and takes 3 to 12 months to do.
  2. The short-term test takes 2 to 7 days to do.

The long-term test is more accurate because you have a longer time to test your air. You can buy long-term test kits from local health departments for less than $20.00. The Minnesota Department of Health has a list of local health departments. In the Twin Cities, call (651) 201-4601. Outside the Twin Cities, call 1-800-798-9050. You will test your air for 3 to 12 months using this kit, and then mail it to a lab. The lab will then tell you whether you had too much radon in the air during the time you tested it. It's a good idea to do the long-term test because radon in the home changes from winter to summer.

You can buy a short-term test from September 1st to June 1st for less than $10.00 at local health departments. The Minnesota Department of Health has a list of local health departments. In the Twin Cities, call (651) 201-4601. Outside the Twin Cities, call 1-800-798-9050. You will test your air for 2 to 7 days using this kit, and then mail it to a lab. The lab will tell you whether your air had too much radon during the time you tested it.

You can also buy kits to test your air for radon on the Internet:  http://mn.radon.com

What do I do if I find out that I have too much radon in my home?

For more information in English, call the Minnesota Department of Health. In the Twin Cities call 651-201-4601. Outside of the Twin Cities, call 1-800-798-9050. They can tell you how to reduce the radon in your home and make it safer.

What is the most important thing I can do?

If anyone in your family smokes, ask them to quit because your family is more likely to get lung cancer if someone is smoking and radon is in your home.

Test your home for radon. If there is too much radon in your home, follow one of the methods the Department of Health gives you to make your air safer.

Contributors:

Editor: Karen Burke, Educational Development System, Minnesota Extension Service.
Translator: Mery Amalia Mendoza
Artist: Dan Ashby

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