Radon is a naturally-occurring radioactive gas. It comes from the natural breakdown (decay) of uranium, which is found in soil and rock all over the United States. Radon travels through soil and enters buildings through cracks and other holes in the foundation. Eventually, it decays into radioactive particles (decay products) that can become trapped in your lungs when you breathe. As these particles in turn decay, they release small bursts of radiation. This radiation can damage lung tissue and lead to an increased risk of lung cancer over the course of a person’s lifetime. EPA studies have found that radon concentrations in outdoor air average about 0.4 pCi/L (picoCuires/Liter). However, radon and its decay products can accumulate too much higher concentrations inside a building.
Radon is colorless, odorless, and tasteless. The only way to know whether or not an elevated level of radon is present in any room is to test. Each frequently-occupied room that is in contact with the ground should be measured because adjacent rooms can have significantly different levels of radon.
Radon is a known human carcinogen. Prolonged exposure to elevated radon concentrations causes an increased risk of lung cancer. The EPA estimates that each year 21,000 people die of lung cancer as a result of being exposed to radon. The U. S. Surgeon General has warned that radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer deaths. Only smoking causes more lung cancer deaths. Not everyone that breathes radon decay products will develop lung cancer. An individual’s risk of getting lung cancer from radon depends mostly on three factors: the level of radon, the duration of exposure, and other cancer risk factors. Risk increases as an individual is exposed to higher levels of radon over a long period of time. Smoking combined with radon is an especially serious health risk. Children have been reported to have greater risk than adults for certain types of cancer from radiation, but there are currently no conclusive data on whether children are at greater risk than adults from radon exposure
The home is likely to be the most significant source of radon exposure because people typically spend most of their time at home and radon concentrations are usually higher in homes. In Minnesota, about 1/3 of homes have radon levels above 4 pCi/L. Parents and staff are encouraged to test their homes for radon and to take action to reduce elevated radon concentrations. Upon request, MDH can provide radon test result data for specific communities (by zip code), which may help provide context and encourage people to also test their homes.
For most school children and staff, the second largest contributor to their radon exposure is their school. An EPA nationwide survey of radon levels in schools estimated that nearly one in five schools has at least one room with a short-term radon level above the action level of 4.0 pCi/L
While radon testing is not required in Minnesota schools, it is highly recommended. Red Wing Public Schools decided to heed this recommendation and has tested all schools within the district for the last 30 years. Below are the most recent test results. Testing will be repeated every 5 years and the newest results will be posted as they are received.