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Time is right for radon testing

Do-it-yourself test kits can detect elevated levels of radon in the home. This kit from Air Check Inc. is offered to Minnesota residents at a discount through an agreement with the Minnesota Department of Health. (Photo provided by Air Check Inc.)

State health officials say now is one of the best times to test homes for radon — an odorless, radioactive gas that is the leading cause of lung cancer among nonsmokers.

Radon levels indoors usually are highest during the winter months when buildings are closed off, according to the Minnesota Department of Health. They estimate that more than 40 percent of Minnesota homes have dangerously high levels of radon.

Home test kits are available at most hardware stores for around $20-30 including the cost of lab analysis. The MDH also offers discounted kits direct from a manufacturer at

A short-term test kit is used by hanging it undisturbed in a lower-level room for a period of three to five days. Radon is absorbed by charcoal within the kit, which is then mailed away and analyzed at a lab to estimate how much of the gas is present in a home.

The MDH recommends hanging the kit the basement if it is occupied regularly.

If a high level of radon is detected on the first test, the MDH says homeowners should perform additional testing and explore a mitigation system to reduce exposure.

The Environmental Protection Agency recommends corrective action for radon levels at or above 4 picoCuries per liter. An estimated seven out of 1,000 nonsmokers will develop lung cancer in their lifetime if exposed to that level annually.

As many as 21,000 Americans die each year due to lung cancer attributed to radon, according to the EPA.

Radon seeps into buildings through cracks in walls and foundations, the MDH says. The process is made worse in colder climates where negative air pressure in heated homes creates a vacuum that pulls more radon in.

Certified contractors

Mike Ellefson with Ellefson Builders Inc. in Winona said radon testing and mitigation services have grown to around 10 percent of his business.

“Every year it’s going up and up,” Ellefson said, with the peak season of calls coming between fall and spring.

Ellefson said a charcoal test kit is a good starting point for most homeowners; but, when buying or selling property, he recommends using a continuous radon monitor, which is more precise and less susceptible to tampering.

The Minnesota Radon Awareness Act, which goes into effect Jan. 1, will require detailed radon notifications for most home sales, the MDH says. The department recommends adding radon testing to inspections for all real estate purchases.

Because radon mitigation is an unlicensed profession in the state, Ellefson said it is important to make sure contractors have National Radon Proficiency Program or National Radon Safety Board certifications before hiring their services. 

Minnesota does not require certifications for radon contractors and the state provides no oversight on their work, according to the MDH. However, the department tracks contractors who have received certifications or attend regular MDH radon training sessions each year. The list is available at

Michael Brun

Michael Brun joined RiverTown Multimedia at the Red Wing Republican Eagle in March 2013, covering county government, health and local events.  He is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin-River Falls journalism program.

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