HIBBING — Radon, an odorless, colorless gas, poses a significant health risk and is the leading cause of lung cancer in nonsmokers, according to the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH).

Unfortunately, most households have never been tested for the gas.

According to MDH, only 1 percent of homes in the state tested for radon — even though 40 percent have dangerous levels. That’s roughly 2 in 5 homes in the state.

The 1 percent is a three-fold increase from 2010.

“The increase in home testing is a positive trend, but it’s clear from the data that people are being exposed to high levels of radon who don’t know it,” said Dan Tranter, supervisor of the Indoor Air Program for MDH, in a release.

A dangerous level of radon is 4 picocuries per liter (pCi/L) or above. A picocurie is a unit designed to measure radiation.

The MDH found that the average level of radon in Minnesota homes is more than three times the national average.

In St. Louis County, nearly 60 percent of tested properties showed less than 2 pCi/L, while over a quarter tested at levels equal to or higher than 4 pCi/L,

Radon is produced from the natural decay of uranium that is found in nearly all soils. As a gas, radon moves up through the soil and into the air you breathe.

More than 21,000 lung cancer deaths each year in the United States are linked to radon, according to the MDH.

“Radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer in the U.S.,” said Pat McKone, regional senior director of the American Lung Association of the Upper Midwest.

Fortunately, the risk is largely preventable.

What should someone do if they are concerned about radon in their homes?

“First they need to test,” McKone said. “A short-term test will do and if that test result comes up higher than 4pc they need to do a long term test (30 days) and if that comes back high, then they need to do remediation.”

Testing is easy, inexpensive and takes 3 to 7 days. In Minnesota, winter is the best time to test homes for radon.

Test kits are available at city and county health departments, many hardware stores or directly from radon testing laboratories. Tests should be done in the lowest level of the home that is frequently occupied.

If your home tests at levels higher than 4 pCi/L, there are things that can be done to reduce the presence of radon.

“First steps would be to caulk/cover cracks, windows, sump pumps — basically anywhere water can enter, so can radon,” McKone explained. “Then test again. If levels are still high, then there are additional steps related to ventilation that can be done.”

For more information on radon testing and mitigation, visit www.health.state.mn.us/radon or call the Minnesota Department of Health Indoor Air Unit at (651) 201-4601 or 1-800-798-9050.

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