Radon mitigation rates in metro area reflect disparities in income, housing, home values
Published 7:39 pm Friday, January 17, 2020
New data from the Minnesota Department of Health indicate that people in neighborhoods with the lowest incomes and more renters may be less able to protect themselves from radon, an invisible, odorless gas that can cause lung cancer, according to a press release. In response, MDH experts hope to use the same data set to determine what outreach and promotional strategies may work best to address those areas most in need.
Radon is the second-leading cause of lung cancer in Minnesota, and health officials have long recommended that all homes in Minnesota be tested for radon. Homes that test high for radon should have radon-reduction systems installed (mitigation) to protect residents from the negative health impacts.
However, a recent analysis of radon testing and mitigation data by MDH’s Environmental Public Health Tracking and Biomonitoring program found that areas of the seven-county metro region with more households living in poverty and more rental housing have lower rates of radon mitigation. A review of data in 2018 suggested that radon testing rates are generally lowest in areas with more households living in poverty.
While on average about two in five Minnesota homes have dangerous levels of radon, the only way to know for sure is to test. According to MDH Indoor Air Supervisor Daniel Tranter, household mitigation systems are the best way to reduce risks from high radon levels. However, at between $1,500 and $2,500 per home, their cost can be a significant barrier for some Minnesotans.
“Our analysis found that Twin Cities metro neighborhoods with higher poverty, a higher percentage of rental homes and lower home values had lower mitigation rates,” Tranter said. “These factors can contribute to health inequities if they prevent people from taking action to avoid radon risks.”
MDH mapped radon testing and mitigation rates for every census tract in the state. Census tracts are areas within counties about the size of a neighborhood. In neighborhoods across the seven- county Twin Cities metro area, mitigation rates ranged from zero mitigations to 63 mitigations per 10,000 homes. Mitigation rates were highest in the western and southern suburbs of the metro and lowest in the urban core and northern suburbs. Similarly, radon testing rates were highest in the western suburbs and lowest in the urban core.
Statewide, south and southeastern Minnesota had higher testing rates than northern Minnesota, and more mitigations took place in the metro area and southern Minnesota than in other parts of the state. On average, 120 homes are tested every year in Freeborn County. Comparing areas with low mitigation rates (bottom 25% of neighborhoods) to areas with high mitigation rates (the top 25%) in the seven-county Twin Cities metro area, MDH found:
• Household poverty rates are three times higher in areas with low mitigation.
• The percent of rental housing is 2.7 times higher in areas with low mitigation — roughly 45%, compared to 17% across high mitigation areas.
• Median home value is 1.5 times lower in areas with low mitigation — $197,000 on average, compared to $309,000 across high mitigation areas.
“These data show radon mitigation is a health equity issue,” Tranter said. “We are sharing the information with local public health organizations, health care providers and other partners around the state to promote awareness and outreach in communities that have low radon testing and mitigation rates. We also must continue looking at the reasons certain areas have lower testing and mitigation rates and what can be done to improve those rates.”
In homes found to have high radon levels, radon reduction typically involves installing a venting pipe and fan to pull the gas from under the home to the outside. This reduces the amount of radon in the home to low levels. Minnesotans can find a list of radon measurement and mitigation professionals on the MDH website at Radon in Homes.
January is National Radon Action Month, and all month long MDH will be partnering with local public health departments and other organizations to raise awareness and make test kits available to Minnesotans at low or no cost. MDH is also raising awareness through TV, radio, billboard and internet spots.
Sue Yost, Freeborn County Public Health director/Community Health Services administrator, strongly urges home owners to test their homes every 2-5 years.
“Radon test results show that 69% of homes tested in Freeborn County since 2010 report levels that highly recommend a radon mitigation system. Those numbers are alarming and radon risks are preventable if you take the initiative to test your home,” Yost said.
Any home owner can pick up a short-term test kit at Freeborn County Public Health at no charge.
To learn more about radon risks, testing and mitigation in Minnesota, call the MDH Indoor Air Unit at 651-201-4601 or 1-800-798-9050, or call Freeborn County Public Health at 507-377-5100.