Lung cancer deaths spur legislation for radon testing


Radon is a radioactive gas that is odorless, tasteless and invisible. The gas is emitted into the air naturally from the soil. It can collect in high concentrations in the air in basements and is blamed for an estimated 700 lung cancer deaths each year in Minnesota, according to a nuclear physicist who testified before the House Housing Finance and Policy Committee on Wednesday.

Physicist Dan Steck, a College of Saint Benedict and Saint John’s University professor, spoke in favor of HF816, sponsored by Rep. Paul Anderson (R-Starbuck), which would require residential homes to have a radon test when they are listed for sale and prior to closing on the sale. The typical Minnesota home collects more than three times the national average of radon gas that’s emitted through the soil underneath a house, Steck said. Lung cancer and death caused by radon gas can be prevented with proper mitigation, but first, a homebuyer needs to know it’s there, he said.

The committee laid the bill over for possible inclusion in an omnibus bill after an amendment was added that would require disclosure of the test results, even if the test was performed within the past five years. It would be effective for home sales with closing dates beyond Aug. 1, 2013. The bill has no Senate companion.

Do-it-yourself test kids are sold, and commercial services are available for radon reduction. Testing averages about $1,500 per household.

Paul Eger, vice president of governmental affairs for the Minnesota Association of Realtors, said realtors support raising a level of radon awareness, but the bill leaves a lot of questions unanswered, such as what area of the home must be tested and for how long; who must the results be shared with; would mitigation be required prior to the closing sale of the home; and if so, who must pay for it?

If the bill becomes law, it would be known as “Janet’s Law,” named for a woman whose death last September was attributed to radon gas.

Radon is also the subject of HF662, a Health Department policy bill sponsored by Rep. Carolyn Laine (DFL-Columbia Heights).

Referred to as the “Minnesota Radon Awareness Act,” the bill would require that sellers provide potential home buyers with a radon disclosure form and a pamphlet titled, “Radon Testing Guidelines for Real Estate Transactions.” The disclosure statement would warn buyers that the Health Department recommends that the buyer have an indoor test performed prior to purchase. If the seller discloses that a test was previously done, the seller must report the results to the buyer.

The House Health and Human Services Policy Committee approved the bill as amended on Wednesday and referred it to the House Judiciary Finance and Policy Committee. Sen. John Marty (DFL-Roseville) sponsors a companion, SF887 which awaits action by the Senate Judiciary Committee.