The radon gas that gets into the air in our homes and buildings originally comes from underground uranium deposits. In time, this underground uranium turns into radium. Then the radium turns into radon. Unfortunately, radon has the ability to bubble up through the soil into basements and into the air in homes, schools, and other buildings. Radon is a colorless, odorless gas. If you use your basement as a family room, man cave, children’s playground, or anything else, you may be breathing in radon gas.
Long-term contact with radon can cause lung cancer. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 21,000 people in America die each year from lung cancer caused by radon exposure.
However, there are no St. Louis County estimates that show the number of radon-induced lung cancer deaths here. Knowing this, you can understand one reason why so many people don’t get their homes’ radon level checked.
St. Louis County has dangerously high radon levels. But the radon levels are not uniformly dangerous throughout the county. It is my opinion that too many St. Louis County people are not aware of the radon danger in their specific area. That is because neither the state nor the county has provided us with useable, understandable information of the radon levels in different areas of the county.
St. Louis County does have a pie chart that shows the average indoor radon levels in the county. But to me this chart is misleading. The chart has three levels: results under 2 picocuries per liter, or pCi/L; results between 2 and 3.9 pCi/L; and results of 4 pCi/L and above.
But the chart does not show where the areas are that have the varying levels of radon. The map that goes with this chart also does not show where the dangerous radon levels are in our county.
If you check your basement for radon, and the reading shows 4pCi/L or more, you need to do something to lower that reading or risk getting radon-induced lung cancer.
I live in Unorganized Territory 57-16 near Biwabik. I had read about radon many years ago when our children were small. To protect my family, I decided to get a radon test kit. I did the test, sent in the results, and a week later found out my basement had a radon reading of 18.7 pCi/L, which is way above the danger level.
So a week after I received the test results, I had a radon vent system installed. Then I did another radon test. The second test showed that the radon level in our basement was 1.3 pCi/L, which is a safely low reading. The radon vent fan runs constantly. It sucks out almost all the radon in our basement.
If I hadn’t taken action, I probably would have died of lung cancer years ago, not to mention what might have happened to my wife and kids.
I told several of my neighbors about the radon danger in our area, and they poo-pooed it. To my dismay, many of them later died of lung cancer.
Since neither the state nor the county has provided understandable information about the location of high radon levels throughout our county, we residents must take the matter into our own hands.
Wherever you live, please get a radon test kit. To do so, please contact the Minnesota Department of Health. You can safely order a good radon test kit for $9.95. Call the Department of Health toll free at (888) 345-0823. Or go online to mn.gov/radon.
If your test results are over 4 pCi/L, the state can safely introduce you to a pro who can install a vent fan to get the radon out of your house.
Joe Legueri of Gilbert is a writer, lifelong Iron Range resident, regular contributor to the News Tribune Opinion page, and retired educator who taught English and college writing to grades 7-12 for 35 years at Biwabik and Mesabi East schools.