The Blaine County Journal News-Opinion - We've Got The County Covered

A first visit to the Merry Widow Health Mine


October 5, 2022

This room is about 300 feet back in to the Merry Widow Health Mine. Here, where cold water enters the tunnel and the radon gas is stronger, clients taking their one hour radon therapy sit, talk, read or nap. This group included a large contingent of Mennonites who come each year from Missouri for radon therapy.

On a recent outing to southwest Montana my wife and I made an overnight stop in Basin in order to visit the Merry Widow Health Mine. Sherry, my wife, has wanted to visit Basin for some time as she knows a Korean minister named Rev. Okee Kim who started a "house Presbyterian church" in the old mining town. His purpose was to minister to visitors, especially Asians, to the nearby health mine. Basin is an old mining town along I-15 that has about 100 residents. The other health mines are the Earth Angel Mine, also near Basin, and the Free Enterprise Mine further north outside Boulder.

The element of interest for people seeking relief from or cures for various medical issues in Montana's three health mines is radon. I'd not thought about radon since we were trying to sell a house in Wyoming, about thirty years ago, and had to have a specialist fly up from Denver to test for the presence of radon. Had it been found, we would have faced some rather expensive mitigations to clear the house of radon. I was surprised to learn radon gas is desirable by some people as a therapy for pain resulting from a wide assortment of maladies. Radon is a radioactive, colorless, odorless, tasteless gas, a by-product of decaying uranium.

Opinions vary about radon as a health therapy

There are certainly varying opinions about the use of exposure to radon as a health treatment. The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) ranks radon as the second most frequent cause of lung cancer, after cigarette smoking, causing 21,000 lung cancer deaths per year in the United States.

On the other side of the radon therapy argument, Dietrich Liechti, who describes himself as a "not for profit researcher and author," has written several books (self-published) about the benefits of radon therapy. He argues while radon is mildly carcinogenic, the tiny dose in radon therapy is "...small and within the normal, natural range" and is not a health risk to most people. Liechti reports "No study of patients and personnel of radon spas (health mines) has ever detected an excess risk of lung cancer." Author Liechti has visited and studied radon therapies at many locations in 30 countries. He reported from a study by researchers in the Soviet Union , "On the assumption that there is a risk from radon therapy, it has been calculated that a full course of radon baths would shorten the patient's life on average by a mere 45 minutes."

In what I would describe as a "middle ground" view, Dr. Barbara Erickson, a professor of anthropology at California State University in Fullerton studied 62 "clients" who took radon therapy in the radon health mines of Montana over a period of five years. These clients, ranging in ages from 60-92, chose radon therapy as an acceptable choice of treatment for arthritis citing "effective pain relief, avoidance of medication side-effects, lower cost, and increased quality of life." For them the future risk of lung cancer from radon exposure was seen as minimal when compared to the perceived benefits.

Here's some of the nitty-gritty of radon therapy

At the Merry Widow Mine, and from what I've read this seems pretty typical of all three mines in the Treasure State, clients are encouraged to spend three hours per day in the mine, with at least a two hour break between each hour they are in the mine. This is repeated, ideally, for up to 10 days resulting in 30 hours of exposure to radon. The two-hour break between times in the mine is to let the radon "dissipate" from the body.

The Merry Widow was a gold mine until 1950 when the owner at the time spent two years having the mine studied by medical doctors and scientists to determine its suitability as a health mine. The mine is accessed directly from the outside along a paved path through a well-lit tunnel that ends at a somewhat larger room lined with benches and chairs. This larger room is where the clients sit during their one hour exposure in the mine. It's a steady 60 degrees air temperature so most folks were wearing warm clothing, wrapped in a blanket or wearing a jacket or sweater.

Some people also drink the mine water, which is tested by the state and is safe to drink. The water is about 40 degrees. There are some access points, little rooms off the main tunnel, where people can soak their feet and hands in the cold water or even, if desired, sit in a tub of the water. There's also a 'dog grotto' where one can sit in the mine and provide their canine with radon therapy (did not see any cats, however). Most people sit on the benches in the larger room during their one hour exposure and visit with other patients, nap or read. One group of Mennonites we saw (learned a large group of them come from Missouri each summer) were at a table working on a jigsaw puzzle. One of the women in that group was holding a little boy of about three years of age who was napping.

Because Basin is small with no motels or hotels, the Merry Widow Mine provides about 50 camping sites easily accessible to the mine entrance. To complete the three visits to the mine in a day requires staying near the mine and the mine owners also have rental apartments, much like man camps seen around the Williston, North Dakota area, with complete kitchens. Basin has only one bar that has a limited menu and times of serving, so handling meals is left up to the clients.

People who have recognized improvement in their medical condition leave written testimonial all over the mine-on the walls, on the benches, on rocks strategically placed along the walkways. A lot of people from Asia come to the Montana health mines for radon therapy. Note inset photo of testimonial in some Asian language.

A single visit to the mine costs $5 per visit. Since most clients come for the full 10-11 day treatment, the Merry Widow Mine has "packages" that include the radon therapy (visits to the mine) and housing-whether as a camper in your rig, in an RV owned by the mine or in the apartments the mine has in Basin (about mile on the other side of the interstate). Those "value packages" vary from an off season 11 night package for one person ($685) to the 'king' package during the 'high use' season at $1316.50) for two people. Most all the mines close for some period during the winter and summer appears to be the "high" season.

Chang Kim, who along with his wife, Veronica, owns the Merry Widow Health Mine said there are three things you must do to make radon therapy work: you must be willing to give up what ails you (he noted some people are defined by their sickness and cannot give it up); you must complete the radon therapy regimen-three hours per day for at least 10 days and you must talk to the other people doing therapy. He said the latter is really important to hear first-hand how the therapy is most effective and to learn how best to benefit from the therapy.

Well, that's a quick overview of one of Montana's three health mines. It was a whole new way of thinking for me. All three mines have websites with phone contacts and details about their particular mine's operation. And just for your information, the author I quoted above (Dietrich Liechti) estimates about 3000-5000 clients visit Montana's three health mines each year. It is an alternative medical treatment embraced by a large number of people.


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