Radon levels

A story attributing a Casselton woman’s death to high levels of radon in her home has prompted action by the public.

The demand for free radon test kits has skyrocketed with people wanting to test their homes. Studies have shown 63 percent of homes in North Dakota have actionable levels of radon. That doesn’t mean those living in homes with high levels have to move, according to state radon coordinator Justin Otto. He says any home can be fixed.

Homeowners with a radon level of 4 pCi/L or higher are urged to take action. The EPA goes further, recommending people seek a radon fix in their home if the level is between 2 and 4pCi/L. The state health department keeps a list of radon mitigators who follow EPA protocol when installing a system to vent the radon gas from the soil beneath homes through a PVC pipe. The cost is usually between $1,000 and $1,500, depending on the home's foundation, Otto told the Forum News Service.

It’s good the story alerted people to the long-term dangers of radon. It’s also gratifying people have responded with requests for the kits. In the week after the Dec. 11 story about the woman’s death, Otto responded to more than 1,500 emails and numerous phone calls. At the time the Bismarck office mailed more than 1,400 radon test kits to residents who requested them and gave about 50 more to people who stopped in. Boxes with 100 kits each were sent to public health offices in Fargo, Bismarck and Jamestown. It usually takes about 10 days to get the results of the radon tests after they are mailed.

Stores also sell the kits and they are available online. Otto says to check to make sure any kit you purchase says "EPA approved" and follow the instructions.

We don’t always realize the services available through the state. The free kits and the ability to get the test results through the state have the potential of being a life-saving service. It’s easy not to think about radon because it’s a colorless, odorless, tasteless gas that exists naturally across North Dakota and in much of Minnesota, South Dakota and all of Iowa. It’s the leading cause of lung cancer in people who don't smoke. So far it's only been anecdotally linked to other illnesses.

This situation isn’t an overreaction by the public. It’s a sensible response to a real problem, and the state is poised to help homeowners. The cost of fixing the problem does fall on the homeowner.

This also is an example of how a news story can provide a public service. The story alerted the public to a potential problem and explained the situation well. In the end many homes in the state will be safer. The death of Judith Antoine, Casselton, was unfortunate, but it served as a warning to many others.

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