Homes and workplaces in West particularly at risk from cancer-causing gas

Date released: Oct 18 2004

RPII works with Ballina Beverages to help heighten awareness of radon gas

Up to 20 per cent of homes in counties Sligo, Mayo and Galway may have high levels of the cancer-causing radon gas, according to the Radiological Protection Institute of Ireland (RPII). However, radon is easily measured and high levels can be dealt with. This message was given during an information visit to Ballina Beverages in Ballina this week by the RPII as part of European Safety Week.

Radon is estimated to cause 150-200 cases of lung cancer every year, or 10-15% of all such cases in Ireland. Though naturally occurring, radon can sometimes become a problem when it enters an enclosed space, such as a building, and builds up to unacceptably high concentrations.

Mr. David Fenton, Manager of the Natural Radioactivity Section of the RPII said “Radon is a known cause of lung cancer and it is important that all homes are measured for radon. Testing for radon is simple and inexpensive and the procedure can be carried out entirely by post. If elevated radon concentrations are found, reducing the levels is reasonably straightforward and can normally be done at moderate cost”.

Ballina Beverages, which employs 270 people in Ballina, had its plant tested for radon recently by the RPII. Radon levels at the plant were found to be low and unproblematic. However, interest among staff in the process was such that the RPII offered to return to present information on radon over two days. In addition to working with Ballina Beverages, the RPII will also meet with students of St Muredach’s College and representatives of Ballina Chamber of Commerce to discuss the dangers of radon gas.

Commenting on the visit to Mayo, Mr Fenton said, “The town of Ballina is situated in a High Radon Area which extends from Sligo town in the east to Bellacorrick in the west and southwards to Galway city. In order to comply with health and safety legislation, radon measurements must be carried out in all workplaces in High Radon Areas and levels reduced if they exceed the values laid down in national legislation. I would commend Ballina Beverages for their proactive approach in ensuring their employees are protected from radon by testing their workplace and urge all other employers in the west of Ireland to follow their example”.

More information on radon gas and a detailed county-by-county risk map can be found on the website or by phoning the RPII on freefone 1800 300 600.

Notes to Editors:
Radon is a naturally occurring radioactive gas. It is colourless, odourless and tasteless and can only be measured using specialised equipment. It is formed in the ground by the radioactive decay of uranium which is present in variable quantities in all rocks and soils.

Being a gas, radon has the ability to move through the soil and enter buildings through small cracks, holes or imperfections that may exist in the floor area.

Once in a building radon quickly decays to produce radioactive particles which 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 which may eventually cause lung cancer.

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.

The RPII advises all householders, particularly those living in High Radon Areas, to have their homes tested for radon.

The national Reference Level for radon in workplaces is 400 becquerels per cubic metre (Bq/m3). The Becquerel is the unit of radioactivity.

More information on radon gas, the RPII and the National Survey of Radon in Dwellings can be found on the website.