RPII concerned about lung cancer risk associated with exposure to high levels of radon gas

Date released: Nov 18 2004

RPII publish Annual Report for 2003

In its Annual Report for 2003 published today, the Radiological Protection Institute of Ireland (RPII) highlights the health hazard associated with exposure to high levels of radon gas. In July 2003, the Institute identified a house in Castleisland, Co. Kerry with radon concentrations of approximately 49,000 Bq/m3 (almost 250 times higher than the national Reference Level for radon in homes). This radon concentration is by far the highest level ever measured in Ireland and is one of the highest values ever recorded in Europe. It subsequently transpired that the householder had been diagnosed with lung cancer and that his wife had died a number of years earlier at a young age from the disease. While it not possible to draw specific conclusions in a single case, the risk of contracting lung cancer associated with a lifetime exposure at such extreme radon concentrations is of the order of 30 to 70%.

Speaking on the publication of its Annual Report, the Chief Executive of the RPII, Dr Ann McGarry said “Radon is a serious risk to health. It is the second highest cause of lung cancer after smoking and accounts for as many as 150-200 deaths in Ireland every year. Householders, particularly those in High Radon Areas, need to measure for radon and if they find high levels, they need to take steps to remedy the problem. Measurement and subsequent remediation are vital to reducing this unnecessary radiation dose to the Irish public”.

The launch of the RPII Annual Report for 2003 coincides with the Third Irish National Radon Forum, being held in Dublin. Speakers at this year’s Forum will address a range of issues, including radon in workplaces, radon prevention in new buildings and radon remediation in existing buildings. Results of a study of radon in Irish drinking water supplies sourced from groundwater will also be presented. Speaking at the Forum, Dr Tony Colgan, a Principal Scientific Officer at the RPII said “Exposure to radon in either the home or workplace is an unnecessary risk. This year’s Forum aims to highlight ways in which exposure can be prevented and to draw attention to the availability of practical and cost effective solutions”.

The RPII is the national organisation with regulatory, monitoring and advisory responsibilities in all matters relating to ionising radiation. In particular the Institute concerns itself with hazards to health associated with ionising radiation in the workplace and with radioactive contamination in the environment. Some key developments during 2003, which are highlighted in the Annual report published today, are:

  • Significant effort was devoted during the year to the provision of advice to Government on nuclear safety issues. The closure of the Calder Hall reactors on the Sellafield site in March 2003 was a significant development as the RPII had expressed concerns over many years about the continued operation of these Magnox reactors, over forty years after they were first opened.
  • The coming into force at the end of 2003 of a new European Directive, the High-activity Sealed Source Directive (HASS), the purpose of which is to ensure that all EU member states have the necessary systems in place to ensure the safety of high-activity and 'orphan' radioactive sources. The Directive must be implemented into national legislation by the end of 2005 and will effectively require the establishment in Ireland of a facility for the centralised storage of disused sealed sources.
  • The Institute continued to fulfill its role under the National Emergency Plan for Nuclear Accidents and during 2003 an in-house Emergency Response Management Information System 2003 was developed which will facilitate efficient management of critical information during an emergency.

Notes for 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.

The third Irish National Radon Forum is organised under the ERRICCA banner in Ireland by the RPII and Remedia Ltd. It is being held today, Thursday, 18th November 2004, at the Red Cow Moran Hotel, Naas Road, Dublin. ERRICCA is a part of an EU programme to increase awareness of radon by bringing together representatives from national agencies, professionals such as architects and engineers, Government agencies and the radon measurement and remediation industries to discuss and debate topical issues of mutual interest.

The national Reference Level for radon in homes is 200 becquerels per cubic metre (Bq/m3). The Becquerel is the unit of radioactivity.

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.

More information on radon gas and the RPII can be found on the website.