Radon gas in 7% of Irish houses above recommended action levels

Date released: Jul 03 2002

According to research published today by the Radiological Protection Institute of Ireland (RPII), approximately 91,000 Irish houses, or 7% of the national housing stock, are predicted to have levels of radon gas above the Government's Reference Level for radon in houses.

The Radon in Dwellings report, published today, describes one of the most comprehensive surveys of its kind carried out in Europe and quantifies the scale of the radon problem in Irish houses. It demonstrates that there is considerable geographical variation in indoor radon across the country. Of the 837 grid squares covering the country, 234 have been classified as High Radon Areas. In particular, Carlow, Kilkenny, Waterford, Wexford and Wicklow in the east and south-east and Clare, Galway, Mayo and Sligo in the west are among the counties with the highest indoor radon levels.

Radon is classified as a Class A carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), which is part of the World Health Organization. This means that there is direct evidence from human studies to support the link between exposure to radon and the induction of lung cancer. After cigarette smoking, long-term exposure to radon gas in the home is the next greatest single cause of lung cancer in Ireland.
If a house is located in a High Radon Area then there is a greater risk that it will have a radon problem. However, high radon levels can be found in houses in any part of the country. The first thing to do therefore is to measure the house, which is simple and inexpensive.

While the survey predicts 7% of the national housing stock or 91,000 houses to be above the Reference Level, so far only 2,500 of these houses have actually been located. This means that the vast majority of houses with high radon levels remain undetected.

Commenting on the report David Pollard, manager of the RPII's Radon Department, said: "Once high radon levels have been found in a house it is usually relatively simple and inexpensive to put the problem right; radon is not a problem we have to live with. This is why it is so important that householders take the first step and have their houses tested. A Government grant scheme to assist householders with the cost of remedial work is being developed at present, so there is an added incentive to have your house tested."


The Report is available on the website:

Radon in Dwellings. The Irish National Radon Survey

Notes to Editor:
Radon is a naturally occurring, radioactive gas formed in the ground by the radioactive decay of uranium, which is present in all rocks and soils. Because radon is a gas, it can move through soil enabling it to enter the atmosphere or seep into buildings.

Radon, which surfaces in the open air is quickly diluted to harmless concentrations, but when it enters an enclosed space, such as a building, it can sometimes build up to high concentrations, which lead to an unacceptable health risk.

For each 10 x 10 km National Grid square the survey predicts the percentage of houses with radon concentrations in excess of the national Reference Level of 200 Bq/m3. Grid squares where this prediction exceeds 10% are classified as High Radon Areas. Maps have already been published by the RPII showing these predictions and these maps are available on the website.

The Government has set a Reference Level of 200 Bq/m3 for radon in homes, above which remediation should be considered. There is a range of effective and relatively inexpensive remediation techniques available for reducing indoor radon levels.
For the population as a whole, a lifetime exposure to radon in the home at the Reference Level of 200 Bq/m3 carries a risk of about 1 in 50 of contracting fatal lung cancer. This is approximately twice the risk of death in a road accident. Radon has not been linked with any other health effects.

Testing houses for radon is simple and inexpensive. It can be carried out by placing two small radon sensitive detectors in the house for three months. At the end of the three-month period the detectors are returned to the testing laboratory for processing. The procedure is carried out entirely by post and there is no need for anyone to visit the house. For more details on measurement please contact the RPII.

In July 1998 revised Building Regulation came into force, which require that radon preventative measures be incorporated into all new houses at the time of construction. Where a house is built in a High Radon Area more stringent protective measures are required.

In Ireland, lung cancer accounts for approximately 20% of all cancer deaths per year; more than any other cancer type.
More information on radon gas and how to measure it can be found on the website.