RPII and Dept of Education and Science work together to reduce school children’s exposure to radon

Date released: Jul 08 2004

RPII survey shows reduction in radon in schools where action taken to address problem

Radon levels in approximately 200 schools around the country have been successfully reduced, following research undertaken by the Radiological Protection Institute of Ireland (RPII) on behalf of the Department of Education and Science (DES), published today (Thursday 8th July, 2004). Radon levels were measured in 3,444 schools, representing 85% of all primary and post primary schools in the country. This is believed to be one of the most comprehensive surveys of radon levels in schools carried out anywhere in the world.

Of the schools measured, 898 had radon concentrations in excess of 200 becquerels per cubic metre (Bq/m3) in one or more ground floor rooms. The average radon concentration in the schools surveyed was 93 Bq/m3.

The Department has put in place a comprehensive remediation programme and work is being carried out in all schools in which radon concentrations over 200 Bq/m3 have been found. The Reference Level for the workplace was set in 2000 at 400 Bq/m3. This remedial programme began in early 2000, soon after the results of the first phase of the survey became available and the work is ongoing. The RPII carries out surveys of schools to ensure that the remedial work is successful in reducing the radon concentrations in affected rooms.

Up to the end of December 2003, post-remediation measurements have been completed in 208 schools. Additional ventilation was used in 108 schools as a means of reducing radon concentrations in the affected rooms. In a further 100 schools, a radon sump, which extracts radon from the sub-floor area and releases it to the atmosphere before it can enter the room, was installed. Ventilation was found to reduce radon concentrations by an average 47% while sump systems resulted in an average reduction of 82% of their original values. Twelve of the 208 schools still have radon concentrations in excess of 400 Bq/m3 and require additional remediation work.

In the remaining 690 schools in which radon concentrations exceed 200 Bq/m3, either radon remediation or post-remediation measurements are presently being carried out. The RPII has recently contacted those schools that did not take part in the national survey and the majority of these have requested radon measurements.

Commenting on the report, Minister for Education and Science Mr Noel Dempsey TD said, "The link between lung cancer and high levels of radon gas is well known. This work with the RPII ensures that the risk to pupils and staff from those high levels has been significantly reduced. This survey also demonstrates my Department’s commitment to compliance with recently passed legislation governing exposure to radon in workplaces. I would like to thank RPII for all their help and guidance on this issue as we continue to work with them in monitoring radon in schools and ensuring where remediation work is done that it has been effective."

Complementing the Department on their foresight in undertaking such a comprehensive survey Dr. Tony Colgan, Principal Scientific Officer of the RPII said, "The research published today by the RPII clearly demonstrates the pervasiveness of radon across the country. Where remedial work has been carried out we can see the immediate benefits in reduced radon concentrations. Employers and householders alike need to be aware of the risks of lung cancer from radon and have a test carried out in order to establish the level they are exposed to."

Ends.

Notes to Editors:

General

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.

Once in a building radon quickly decays to produce radioactive particles that are suspended in the air. When inhaled these particles can be deposited in the airways and attach themselves to lung tissue. This gives rise to a radiation dose that may eventually cause lung cancer.

Reference Levels

A Reference Level is the radon concentration above which remedial action is likely to be needed. In workplaces a Reference Level of 400 Bq/m3 is set out in legislation enacted in 2000. On the advice of the RPII, in 1999 the Department of Education and Science adopted a lower Reference Level of 200 Bq/m3 in schools. The Reference Level of 200 Bq/m3 is also the Reference Level for radon in homes and its use in schools helps ensure that pupils are not at increased risk from radon while at school than they would be in their homes. Schools whose results were below 200 Bq/m3 were advised that no further action was necessary. Schools with results greater than 200 Bq/m3 were advised that remedial work to reduce the radon concentration would be arranged by the DES.

Survey Protocols

The survey was carried out on a phased basis from September 1998 to June 2002. In May preceding the start of the survey, schools were sent details of the survey, a radon information leaflet and an application form to participate. The information sought from the schools included the number of ground floor classrooms and ground floor offices/assembly areas to be tested, a contact person in the school who would take responsibility to place and remove the detectors and details of whether any previous measurements or remedial work had ever been carried out at the school.

In early September participating schools were issued with one detector for each room in which a radon measurement was to be made. The radon detectors used in this survey are passive alpha track-etch CR 39 detectors. The same detectors are used in Ireland and in many other countries for radon measurements in homes and workplaces. Full instructions on the placement of detectors were given to each school. Instructions for the return of the detectors were sent to schools towards the end of the school year the following June.

Results were issued to each school only when all detectors from the relevant phase were processed. Copies of individual results for all schools were sent to the Department.

Radon in Homes

From 1992 to 1999, the RPII carried out a National Survey of Radon in Dwellings. This survey classified areas in which greater than 10% of dwellings are predicted to have annual average radon concentrations greater 200 Bq/m3 as High Radon Areas. Approximately 33% of the country is classified as a High Radon Area.  See the website for full details.

Radon in Workplaces

Statutory Instrument. No. 125 of 2000 (S.I. No. 125 of 2000) sets a Reference Level for workplaces of 400 Bq/m3 averaged over any three-month period. Where it is shown that this Reference Level is exceeded, the employer must take measures to protect the health of workers. S.I. No. 125 of 2000 also empowers the RPII to direct employers to have radon measurements carried out in their workplace.

The Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act, 1989, requires employers to identify hazards in the workplace, assess the risk to health and safety from these hazards and put in place measures to eliminate or reduce the risk. In order to assess the risk from radon, the Health and Safety Authority has stated that all indoor workplaces in High Radon Areas must have radon measurements carried out.

Download full report: Radon in Irish primary and post-primary schools