The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has designated January as National Radon Action Month to raise awareness about the risks of radon in homes. Radon is the leading cause of lung cancer in non-smokers, causing more than 21,000 deaths in the U.S. each year.

Because of the geology and climate, radon is a serious public health concern in Minnesota and western Wisconsin where the average radon level in homes is more than three times higher than the U.S. level.

Any home can have high radon, whether old or new, well-sealed or drafty and with or without a basement. When houses are closed up, radon gas, formed by naturally decaying uranium in the earth, moves up from the soil and into homes through cracks in concrete, floor-wall joints, open sump pits or crawl spaces. Breathing in this radioactive gas over time can lead to lung cancer. Smokers have a much higher risk.

More information about radon, testing and fixing radon problems, including a list of licensed contractors and financial assistance, can be found at www.health.state.mn.us/radon for Minnesota and www.dhs.wisconsin.gov/radon for Wisconsin.

All Minnesota homes should be tested for radon and then retested every 2-5 years and whenever changes to the home could affect air flow, according to Goodhue County Health and Human Services. People can test their own home using an inexpensive test kit available at hardware stores and public health agencies. Testing kits are placed in the lowest occupied level of a house for 4-7 days and then mailed to a lab.

Certified radon professionals can also perform tests and install mitigation systems to reduce radon levels at or above 4pCi/L. A mitigation system uses a fan to pull air from underground and exhaust it outdoors through a pipe. The average cost of hiring a professional to mitigate radon levels is $1,500.