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Radon inspections drop 40% in Minnesota, state officials say

Douglas County radon specialists see a similar drop

EP News
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ALEXANDRIA — During the hottest days of the real estate market, Alexandria radon experts heard their phone ring less and less.

“For a while it was so competitive to buy a house that everything got skipped,” said Charley Speed, owner of Alexandria-based Central Minnesota Radon.

Kevin Boike, owner of Glacial Lakes Radon in Alexandria, said his business had dropped about 40% in 2022.

It was happening not just in Alexandria but statewide. The Minnesota Department of Health this week released a report saying that radon inspections had dropped 39% in 2022 from 2020, even though the number of home sales remained the same.

Radon testing is routinely handled during property sales, when buyers can ask for a radon test. If the test comes back with high levels of the lung cancer-causing gas, buyers can ask sellers for a price break or to install a system that reduces or eliminates radon.

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However, in 2020 and 2021, many properties were flooded with multiple offers from eager buyers, who were willing to overlook things if it meant gaining a competitive edge. That meant foregoing a radon test.

Radon is proved to cause lung cancer, and the more radon in your home, the more your risk goes up — more if you're a smoker. For nonsmokers, a level of 4 means about seven people in 1000 would get lung cancer, according to the U.S. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. If you smoke, your chance of developing lung cancer at that level is 62 in 1000.

Radon occurs naturally and is common in Minnesota homes. In Douglas County, 61.6% of homes that were tested were found to have radon levels of 4 or higher, and 83.7% have some radon, according to the state health department. While not the highest levels in Minnesota, it is still on the high end.

The health department said it analyzed professional radon testing data for 2020 to 2022 and found that in 2022 there were 19,976 real estate tests reported by professionals, which was lower than the 32,537 tests reported in 2020.

The department urged Minnesota residents to test their homes for radon and reduce radon problems by installing radon reduction systems. With more people working from home, it’s more important than ever to test homes for radon, health officials say. January is Radon Action Month.

Boike said that even if home buyers missed getting a radon test during negotiations, it's not too late.

“You can always test after you buy,” he said.

This winter, Minnesotans can obtain test kits at low or no cost through local public health departments and other organizations. Hardware stores may also stock test kits, and licensed professionals can also conduct testing.

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Tests should be done in the lowest level of the home that is frequently occupied. Test devices are usually placed in the home for two to five days. The best time to test is during the heating season, but testing can be done year-round.

In homes with high radon levels, experts can install a venting pipe and fan to pull the gas from under the home to the outside. State health officials conduct free inspections of radon mitigation systems installed after June 1, 2020.

For more information about radon in Minnesota, visit the MDH website at Radon in Homes or call 651-201-4601 or 1-800-798-9050.

Reporter Karen Tolkkinen grew up in Plymouth, Minnesota, graduated from the University of Minnesota with a journalism degree in 1994, and was driven by curiosity to work her way around the United States.
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