When you call wolf

For the past twenty years, the Minnesota Department of Health has tried to get homeowners interested in testing and mitigating for radon. They purport that this gas is present at excessive levels in more than 40% of Minnesota homes putting lives in danger due to its tie to lung cancer.

Influence Media, a local news aggregator, reported today via his newsletter:

Since January 1st, 2014 a more extensive disclosure law has been required upon the sale of a home. In addition to the seller of the property having to disclose any information regarding radon tests, a two page add on provides statistical information implying the severity of radon effects.

Following the passage of the law, testing for radon ($150) became standard at time-of-sale. It also became the expectation for the seller to install a mitigation system ($1500-$2000) should the results fall above the measure set by the Health Dept. A mitigation industry blossomed from these new rules. This was followed a few years later by a licensing requirement for the mitigation contractors, the standard package of fees, and continuing education. Builders are also required to install a passive mitigation system in all new builds.

After all these years of constructing a new set of norms, nearly forty percent of buyers are not convinced. Why?

On the face of it, the numbers don’t make sense. If forty percent of homes in the state were filling the resident’s lungs with deadly gas, wouldn’t there be more deaths due to lung cancer? The American Cancer Society reports that lung cancer deaths were reduced by 29% between 1991 to 2017. I wrote a breakdown of the of the effect of lung cancer in Minnesota in a piece about radon a few years ago.

The other indication that this issue may be more about bureaucratic capture than health threats is the disinterest in the topic among researchers and academics. It seems on life and death issues there would be ongoing research, yet none is presented. In fact, the academic connection between radon and single family homes (as opposed to industrial settings) is opaque.

Health and personal safety are two top priorities for almost everyone. Keeping resources steered toward mitigating the greatest offenders is the path to improving lives.