By Brian D’Ambrosio for the Helena Tourism Alliance
Note: We are not endorsing the claims made by the benefits of radon simply sharing information on the mines location, history and others experiences.
There are only four radon health mines in the United States, and all four of them are located within twenty minutes’ drive of each other in the Boulder-Basin area south of Helena.
In the 1880s the Boulder-Basin area served as the center of several gold and silver mines operating in the nearby mountains. When the Atomic Age arrived, the hills produced uranium. Mines like the Merry Widow, Free Enterprise, Earth Angel and Sunshine now release radon gas – a motionless material that occurs naturally from the decay of uranium and its results, radium and radon.
The suffering come from all over the country in hopes of testing the mine’s curative powers. Visitors assert that a little poison may not be a dangerous thing and limited exposure does what orthodox medications cannot by providing relief from constant pain and remission from disease.
Woes come in all forms, from hypertension to arthritis, and some say the radon mines help when medications haven’t. Mines have been purportedly relieving such ailments as arthritis, sinusitis, migraine, eczema, asthma, hay fever, psoriasis, allergies, diabetes, and other health issues.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency regards radon as “a toxic carcinogen,” classifying levels of 4 pCi/L or above as the “action point,” at which homeowners should take precautions to “limit their exposure.” In the words of the World Health Organization, radon inhalation is “the second largest cause of lung cancer in the world.” In the United States, it is responsible for “about 21,000 deaths from the disease every year,” according to EPA estimates.
There is a school of thought that low-levels of radiation is “actually healthful.” “Radon therapy,” as one brochure explains, simply “consists of series of daily visits to the Mine,” where levels of the colorless, odorless, tasteless, and highly radioactive gas fluctuate between 700 to 2,200picoCuries per liter of air. On average, they are about 1700 pC/l. It is advised that before seeking the radon cure visitors consult with a physician. The temperature in the mines remains around 60 degrees winter and summer so it is advisable to bring some warm clothing.
Merry Widow Mine
Address: 29 I-15 Frontage Rd, Basin
35 minutes from Helena, Montana
Phone: (406) 225-3220
Twenty miles south of Helena, the Merry Widow Mine is a tunnel into the mountain. Look for the large red arrow pointing toward the hidden hills of the defunct gold mine. The visitors drink the mine water which they claim is very beneficial to good health and well-being. The water in this mine has been tested by the State Health Department and found to be “pure for drinking purposes.”
“The main reason people have so many health problems is due to environmental toxins,” said employee Elizabeth Kelly. “Some people have far more success with this than they do with pharmaceuticals. It’s such a different thing, but most people don’t know anything about rock medication.”
In the mine shaft the air is frigid, the walls trickle water and ionized radiation oozes from the rock. A road allows visitors to drive and park within feet of tunnel entrance. The Merry Widow slices deep into the mountain, navigating a minor turn that stretches on for 500 feet. Inside the tunnel the temperature holds firm at 60-degrees. Inside the shaft, radon levels do surpass federal safety standards, or what’s allowable in a home by as much as 175 times. But mine and health officials say it’s not dangerous, as long as users limit their sessions inside the cave to “40 hours per year.” “Low doses of radiation will stimulate your immune system,” said Dwayne Knutzen, the mine’s owner. “It does wonders.”
National Geographic Magazine once featured the Merry Widow. Over the years, the mine has also appeared in Life, the New Yorker, Forbes and Fortune magazines. Several binders of testimonials are preserved inside in plastic sleeves. Some are typed while others come hand-written. Several date back to the early 1990s. “I am now able to work a full day without fatigue,” one man testified. “My high blood pressure has been relieved. I am 73 years old.”
Free Enterprise Radon Health Mine
Address: 149 Depot Hill Rd, Boulder
35 minutes south of Helena, Montana
Phone: (406) 225-3383
People have been pursuing the radon remedy at the Free Enterprise Radon Health Mine for decades. It is the oldest of the radon health mines, opening for business as Montana’s first uranium mine in 1949, before transitioning its extraction focus to the more elusive entity of “personal health” just three years later. Free Enterprise Health Mine, which charges $8 for a 60-minute visit, a pink-carpeted elevator furnished with a single red chair takes visitors down to a subterranean destination: a wood-framed mine shaft, “87 feet beneath the surface.” A vinyl blind screened off a heated area, in which several elderly folks were sitting on arm chairs, benches, and a couple of La-Z-Boy recliners, chatting, playing cribbage and cards, and thumbing through magazines. Over the course of a typical treatment, clients spend between 30 and 60 hours down in the Health Mine, spread out over a 10-day period. The claustrophobic can stay above-ground, in an “inhalatorium” whose similarly radioactive air is piped from an abandoned level immediately below the open mine shaft.
Earth Angel Health Mine
Address: 61 Earth Angel Rd, Boulder
40 minutes from Helena, Montana
Phone: (406) 225-3516
Each summer and fall, hundreds of people, many of them Amish and Mennonites, come to the Earth Angel Health Mine to relax and treat arthritis, lupus, asthma and other chronic inhibitors. The mantra is that a pinch of poison provides a pardon from pain. “Hormesis” is a familiar word and radon is looked upon as a method to improve the body’s immune system, fending off colds, relieving migraine headaches and, some believe, arthritis. Some researchers even agree that radon gas stimulates the pituitary gland, producing health-giving hormones and natural steroids. The International Hormesis Society is an organization that works to “promote and expand the scientific understanding of low-dose ionizing radiation as a therapy.” The word hormesis itself, coined in 1943 by two scientists working with oak bark, is used to describe “any beneficial effect that’s induced by low doses of an agent that would be lethal if taken in high doses.”
Sunshine Radon Mine
Address: 130 Galena Gulch Rd, Boulder
45 minutes from Helena, Montana
Phone: (406) 225-3670
The Sunshine Mine yielded gold and uranium to early 20th century miners and continued to do so until the early 1950’s. In a letter requesting non-profit foundation status for the Sunshine Mine in 1952 the following reason was provided:
“In hope that we will be able to render even a greater service to those whose suffering has prompted them to visit “Sunshine Uranium Deposits” and to the new friends whom we invite to become acquainted with the very beneficial benefits others have found so helpful”.
The letter explained the hopes that doctors and scientists would embrace this new therapy and a mentioned that several doctors brought patients and “saw positive results.” The first visitors to Jefferson Foundation Sunshine Mine (later renamed Sunshine Mine) came in August 1952.
Many owners have enhanced the property throughout the decades. The current owners, Don and Carly Gilchrist and Dennis, Shellie and Colin Lee purchased Sunshine Mine in 2005. They give visitors and prospective clients a glowing report on radiation. “We are devoted to the original reason for creating this space for healing in beautiful Southwest Montana,” said Don Gilchrist.
Mine visits can be made by reservation year-round. First time guests are invited for free tours. “The Sunshine Health Mine is regularly tested for radon gas emissions and meets the European standards for effective treatment,” said Gilchrist. “We have been a health mine for 52 years with a clientele that returns year after year with amazing results.”