Odorless, colorless and tasteless, radon gas is a silent killer. Radon exposure is the leading cause of lung cancer for nonsmokers, killing about 1,000 people each year in Minnesota and 21,000 throughout the United States. A Minnesota senator and a University of Minnesota professor are working to reduce these numbers.
“This is a mater of public health and safety,” Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., said.
Klobuchar introduced the Indoor Radon Exposure Abatement and Detection Act outside a St. Paul home Friday in front of about 15 people.
If passed, the bill would require the Environmental Protection Agency to set national standards for radon testing and training and to define unacceptable radon levels. It would also create a rebate program to help reduce the cost of installation of radon mitigation systems in newly constructed homes.
Joining her were representatives from various radon research and awareness groups, including University radon researcher William Angell.
Angell helped write the bill and has been in contact with Klobuchar’s staff since November.
“I found the senator’s staff to be very informed about some general issues, but not the specifics,” Angell said. “So a lot of the expertise I brought to the table was associated with my work.”
Angell is a professor of housing studies in the College of Design, a University Extension housing technology specialist, president of the American Association of Radon Scientists and Technologists and director of Midwest Universities Radon Consortium.
Minnesota passed legislation in May 2007 requiring all new homes to have radon mitigation systems by June 2009.
“We were the first,” State Rep. Kim Norton, DFL-Rochester, said, “and hopefully we won’t be the last.” Norton was the legislation’s chief author and worked with Angell on crafting it.
Klobuchar’s bill is fashioned after Minnesota’s bill and plans to build off its successes.
“Minnesota was ahead of its time,” Klobuchar said. “It’s time for us to lead the rest of the country.”
Hennepin County homes have average radon levels that are three times higher than the national indoor average, Angell said at a press conference. He said constant exposure to that amount has the same effect on the lungs as smoking eight cigarettes a day or having 200 chest X-rays.
Klobuchar spoke outside the home of Dave Hansen and Karen Lilley, who have had a radon mitigation system for more than 21 years.
A PVC pipe stands up against the wall in their garage and runs into the ground. With the help of two fans at strategic suction points, radon is continuously pulled out of the earth and released at the end of the pipe on the roof.
“It’s pretty simple,” Hansen said. “And it’s still running off the original fans.” The system allows Hansen and Lilley to keep radon levels as close to the national indoor average as possible.
While radon naturally exists in every part of the country, Minnesota has one of the highest concentrations due to cold-weather building methods that often seal air inside the home. Radon can enter through cracks in floors, walls, foundations and pipes.
The Minnesota Department of Health estimates that more than one-third of all homes in the state have dangerous radon levels.
“With public awareness, the danger from radon can be managed and minimized,” Klobuchar said.