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Lung cancer lurking in basement

Minnesota homes need to be tested for radon gas, and winter is the best time to do it.

Minnesotans are some of the most health-conscious residents in the nation. They tend to understand the value of exercising and eating right. The state has passed laws making it illegal to smoke in public places.

So why are Minnesotans, otherwise so proactive on health risks, so blasé about the dangers of radon?

Every 25 minutes, one person in the U.S. dies from radon-related lung cancer, according to the Minnesota Department of Health.

It is the largest environmental cancer risk out there -- and the leading cause of lung cancer among non-smokers.

And it is a risk that is largely preventable.

Should you be concerned? Four out of 10 of you should: More than 40 percent of Minnesota homes have dangerous levels of radon gas and state health officials say every home should be tested.

To emphasize the importance of radon testing, Gov. Mark Dayton has declared January "Radon Action Month" in Minnesota.

More than 40 local public health agencies around the state have partnered with the Minnesota Department of Health to make over 8,000 radon test kits available to local residents at low or no cost.

For details on how to obtain a kit, contact your local public health agency or MDH.

A list of participating health agencies can be found on the MDH website.

Radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer in the United States and more than 21,000 deaths are attributed to radon each year.

Radon exposure, however, is a preventable health threat. Over 1,000 Minnesota homeowners every year have radon reduction systems installed in their homes, but this is a small percentage of all Minnesota homes that have elevated radon levels.

Radon is odorless, colorless and tasteless, so the only way for homeowners to know if their home has radon is to test. Testing is easy, inexpensive and only takes 3-5 days. Most test kits are priced under $20 and are available at city and county health departments, many hardware stores, or directly from radon testing laboratories. Discounted test kits can also be purchased online at

The best time to test is in the winter, but testing can be done year-round. It is especially important to test during real-estate transactions. Radon tests can be easily incorporated into a home inspection.

Tests should be done in the lowest level of the home that is frequently occupied. Tests should not be done in laundry or utility rooms, kitchens or bathrooms.

Once you have tested, further action can be taken based upon your results. If your home's level is over 4 PiC/L, you should consider verification testing and having a radon mitigation system installed.

It's time to get serious about a little understood but very serious lung cancer threat that the State Health Department says is lurking in 40 percent of Minnesota basements.