Well water and the air we breathe

By Madeline Seveland, Carver County Water Management

January is National Radon Action Month, a month to learn about the effects of radon on our health and how to mitigate those effects. Radon is gas with no color, odor or taste.
It’s natural occurring, coming from the radioactive breakdown of uranium found in the ground. Long-term exposure to radon at higher than recommended levels is the second leading cause of lung cancer (right behind smoking) as radon gas decays into radio-active particles that can get trapped in your lungs when breathed in.
Most radon problems occur because radon seeps into a home or building from the ground underneath and contaminates the indoor air quality. These air problems can be fixed by a radon abatement system which directs the radon out of the house. Once radon is in open air it dissipates becoming harmless. When trapped in closed spaces (like a sealed up house in winter) and allowed to accumulate, that’s when it can be dangerous. According to the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH), one in three homes in Minnesota are estimated to have radon levels that pose a significant health risk.
The highest risk to radon exposure comes from radon in air.
Another exposure, although relatively small, is through groundwater. If the tap water in your home comes from a surface water source such as a lake or river, any radon present would be released before ever arriving at your tap. But with groundwater, there is potential for radon to dissolve and accumulate.
When water containing this dissolved radon is used in the home, the radon escapes from the water to the air. This causes radon accumulation in the air in the home and can be dangerous to your health.
Some radon will still stay in the water causing other problems with long term exposure such as stomach and other internal organ cancers. MDH states that the highest concentrations of radon in drinking water were found in the east central and southern parts of the state.
So how do you know if your water contains radon? If you get water from a public system (city water), find out whether your water comes from a surface (lake, river, reservoir) or ground water source. If it comes from a surface water source, any radon present would be released before getting to your tap. If it comes from a ground water source, call your city and ask if they test for radon. Some cities in Carver County already test for radon and have their results available on their websites.
If you have a private well you can send in a water sample to be tested for radon. For information on labs visit https://apps.health.state.mn.us/eldo/public/accreditedlabs/labsearch.seam or call Carver County Env. Services at 952-361-1800. Labs known for offering homeowner well water testing near Carver County include MN Valley Testing Laboratories, Inc. in New Ulm, MN and Streams DHIA Central Laboratory in Sauk Centre. Carver County Environmental Services has well water testing kits to send into MN Valley Testing available at the County Government Center and the Environmental Center.
Radon (air) test kits will be available at no charge during the month of January at the Carver County Environmental Center only. Limit one test kit per household and will supplies last. Proof of residency is required. Kits will be available at the Environmental Center during winter hours (Wed., noon-7 p.m.; Thurs., 11 a.m.-5 p.m.; Sat., 8 a.m.-noon).
If you have questions about the test kit giveaway or the Environmental Center, contact (952) 361-1800 or visit www.co.carver.mn.us/ec.