After hearing stories about radon gas in basements a few years ago when the Powell family moved into their Hans Hagen home near Big Woods Elementary, Mark and Jessica tested their basement.
"It came back at a 2.7," Mark said. "Which is kind of 'on the line.' They told us we could consider mitigation, but at that point it wasn't necessary."
Fast forward to 2012. With the advances of Facebook and other social media, Jessica caught a couple of articles about radon, and thought maybe she should test the house again.
"I caught a piece on WCCO, and then Patch has been doing some stories on cancer in the are," Jessica said. "So we got another kit."
Six years after the first test, the new results came back at a 4.0.
"According to the EPA, that's like smoking 10 cigarettes in the basement every day," Mark said.
"The kids spend all of their time down there," Jessica added. "It's where they play indoors. So we thought, 'Wow! This is not cool at all.' It's like sending your kid into a dirty bar to play."
Most homes constructed after 2000, especially those in newer St. Michael developments, are equipped with radon stack. That's essentially a PVC pipe that runs from the basement (usually located in the utlility room) and up to the attic, where vents can release the gas outdoors.
Most of those stacks, however, are incomplete.
The Powell's pipe, for example, stopped in an attic that doesn't have the best ventilation. There was not an attic fan. Plus, there really isn't anything to move the gas up the pipe and out, so Mark needed to install a few items, including a fan.
"It's a weekend project, really," Mark, who considers himself somewhat handy, said. "It does involve some wiring, and getting on the roof."
Still, Mark was able to find all the supplies he needed to complete the mitigation system at his local hardware stores, including Hardware Hank in St. Michael and Home Depot in Monticello (for a roof safety kit).
He did some basic electrical work, cut the hole in the roof for the pipe extention to come out, and had to do some flashing around the pipe.
The work was done in mid-April, so the Powells will test again in May to see the results of Mark's work.
"It's just one of those slow threats, and people aren't always the quickest to respond to things they can't see, even if they know it's there," Mark said.
Jessica said she thinks of it every time she hears of someone coming down with cancer.
"I wonder what the conditions in the home are," she said. "And I worry about our neighbors. A lot of the soils here shift, and the house settles. So you can't test just once and forget about it. It's something you need to do more than once."
About radon gas
Scientists and researchers categorize radon as a Group A carcinogen, meaning that there is no known acceptable level of exposure and that it has been demonstrated to cause cancer. Other Group A carcinogens include tobacco smoke and asbestos. It is believed to be the second leading cause of lung cancer.
Anyone can use a "do-it-yourself" test kit to check his or her home, the county states. There are short-term and long-term test kits available. Short-term test kits should remain in the building from two to seven days, depending on the device. Weather conditions and opening and closing of windows will affect radon levels within a building. Using the short-term test will give the homeowner a snapshot of the home's radon level.
Short term ($6) or long term ($12) kits can be purchased through the county. Stop in to the Wright County Human Services Center, 1004 Commercial Drive, Buffalo, MN 55313-1736, between 8 a.m. and 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday. Or, check out the WOW Wellness Van the next time it stops at in Albertville.