St. Paul, MN – Joined by public health advocates and homebuilder representatives, U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar announced today Friday, April 30) that she will introduce federal legislation aimed at reducing exposure to cancer-causing radon gas in homes.
Radon occurs naturally when uranium and radium in the soil decay and break down, releasing a radioactive gas that eventually finds its way to the ground surface (or into the basements of homes and buildings).
“Radon is ghost-like,” said Klobuchar. “You can’t see it, smell it, taste it, touch it or feel it. You don’t know when you’re breathing it, and you can’t tell how much of it you might be breathing. The only way to know if your home has radon, and how much, is to test for it.”
Radon exposure is the second leading cause of lung cancer (after smoking), responsible for more 20,000 deaths each year in the United States, including an estimated 1,000 premature deaths each year in Minnesota.
At a home in Saint Paul with a radon control system installed, Klobuchar announced her legislation and highlighted the importance of addressing the most serious risk from radon exposure, which is inside the home.
Indoor residential exposure occurs when radon gas enters through cracks in floors, walls and construction joints, or gaps in foundations around pipes, wires and pumps.
Klobuchar noted that, while radon exists naturally in every part of the country, Minnesota has one of the highest concentrations. In addition, radon is a more serious concern in Minnesota because of cold-weather building methods that tend to seal air inside the home. Also, many Minnesota homes have basements that are used for living spaces.
The Minnesota Health Department estimates that more than one-third of all homes in the state have dangerous radon levels. Several years ago, Minnesota passed landmark state legislation that requires all new homes (as of June 2009) to have radon ventilation systems.
Klobuchar’s federal legislation is called the “Indoor Radon Exposure Abatement and Detection Act.” Key provisions would:
• Require the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to establish a scientifically-based national standard that defines what level of radon is unacceptable. Initially, this level would be set at 4.0. However, the legislation would also authorize the EPA to adjust this level in the future based on further scientific information.
• Authorize the EPA to set national standards for radon testing and for worker training programs for radon abatement. This will ensure consistency and quality across the country.
• Provide incentives (in the form of grants) to states like Minnesota that implement statewide radon education and mitigation plans, including building codes that require radon-resistant construction in new homes.
•Create a rebate program to help reduce the costs of installing radon control systems in newly-constructed homes. This could be similar to the kind of rebate that’s currently available for the purchase and installation of things like energy-efficient appliances and windows.
“With public awareness, the danger from radon can be managed and minimized,” said Klobuchar. “The most important thing is for people to take the risk of radon seriously. Here in Minnesota especially, it’s important to test your home, which is simple and inexpensive. If the test shows a high level of radon, there are relatively simple methods to reduce your exposure.”
Participants at the news conference included State Rep. Kim Norton, chief author of the Minnesota radon legislation; William Angell, professor of housing studies at University of Minnesota, director of Midwest Universities Radon Consortium, and president of American Association of Radon Scientists and Technologists; Dale Dorschner, supervisor of the indoor air unit, Minnesota Health Department; Elizabeth Hoffman, founder and president of Cancer Survivors Against Radon (CanSAR); Mike Gohman and Pam Weaver, president and executive vice president, Builders Association of Minnesota; and Bob Moffitt, communications director with the American Lung Association of Minnesota