New data from the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) indicates that people in neighborhoods with the lowest incomes and more renters may be less able to protect themselves from radon, an invisible, odorless gas that can cause lung cancer.

In response, MDH experts hope to use the same data set to determine what outreach and promotional strategies may work best to address those areas most in need.

Radon is the second-leading cause of lung cancer in Minnesota, and health officials have long recommended that all homes in Minnesota be tested for radon.

Homes that test high for radon should have radon-reduction systems installed (mitigation) to protect residents from the negative health impacts.

A review of data in 2018 suggested that radon testing rates are generally lowest in areas with more households living in poverty. While on average about two in five Minnesota homes have dangerous levels of radon, the only way to know for sure is to test.

According to MDH Indoor Air Supervisor Daniel Tranter, household mitigation systems are the best way to reduce risks from high radon levels. However, at a cost between $1,500 and $2,500 per home, their cost can be a significant barrier for some. 

MDH mapped radon testing and mitigation rates for every census tract in the state.

Census tracts are areas within counties about the size of a neighborhood.

Statewide, south and southeastern Minnesota had higher testing rates than northern Minnesota, and more mitigations took place in the metro area and southern Minnesota than in other parts of the state. Comparing areas with low mitigation rates (bottom 25 percent of neighborhoods) to areas with high mitigation rates (the top 25 percent), MDH found:

• Household poverty rates are three times higher in areas with low mitigation.

• The percent of rental housing is 2.7 times higher in areas with low mitigation – roughly 45 percent, compared to 17 percent across high mitigation areas.

• Median home value is 1.5 times lower in areas with low mitigation – $197,000 on average, compared to $309,000 across high mitigation areas.

In homes found to have high radon levels, radon reduction typically involves installing a venting pipe and fan to pull the gas from under the home to the outside. This reduces the amount of radon in the home to low levels.

Minnesotans can find a list of radon measurement and mitigation professionals on the MDH Web site at www.health.state.mn.us.

January is National Radon Action Month, and MDH will be partnering with local public health departments and other organizations to raise awareness and make test kits available to Minnesotans at low or no cost.

– Graphic courtesy of the Minnesota Department of Health Web site