Radon measurement must be made compulsory in home conveyancing

Date released: Mar 10 2005

Need for greater protection for homebuyers. Radon causes up to 200 deaths per year in Ireland

All homes being placed for sale on the market should be tested for radon gas and where necessary, remediation should be included in the mortgage approval process, the Radiological Protection Institute of Ireland (RPII) said today.

Almost 90,000 homes throughout Ireland still have radon concentrations above the recommended levels, despite widespread public knowledge of the problem. The Institute has made a submission to the Law Reform Commission on the issue and has written to all the major banks, building societies and insurance companies urging them to protect the interests of their clients in reducing the risks from radon in the home.

Radon, a naturally occurring radioactive gas, is responsible for up to 200 lung cancer deaths every year in Ireland. All new homes built since July 1998 are required by law to have radon preventive measures installed. However, this will not necessarily ensure that radon concentrations are at safe levels.

With a typical home ownership cycle of seven to eight years, a requirement to produce evidence of radon measurement at the time of a purchase or sale would ensure that the majority of homes would be tested for radon over the course of a decade and could be verifiably remediated.

“The simple fact is that there are unsafe homes being sold in Ireland every day. Voluntary assessment has so far resulted in finding less than three per cent of affected homes, which leaves approximately 250,000 people living in extremely unhealthy surroundings. Any physically dangerous defects in the structure of a home are checked by the conveyancing process and must be remedied before mortgage approval is given. The same should apply to radon. Remediation is relatively straightforward and inexpensive – no one should have to live with the danger”, said the Institute’s Director of Advisory Services, Dr. Tony Colgan.

While many workplaces are currently required by law to test for radon, no such law applies to domestic dwellings. Dr. Colgan said that there was strong anecdotal evidence to suggest that very significant numbers of householders with potential radon problems were ignoring the issue and leaving themselves and their families exposed to the health risks. “This is both illogical and unnecessary. People may be worried about the impact on the value of their homes, but once the problem has been identified and remediation is carried out, there is no residual danger. We feel this is a national issue, not merely confined to individual householders who might be affected and the public must be guided through it by legislation”, he said.

Several parts of the country have been identified as High Radon Areas and at particular risk from the gas. They include, but are not confined to, extensive areas of counties Sligo, Mayo, Galway, Clare, Kerry, Waterford, Wicklow, Wexford, Kilkenny and Carlow. Full details are available on the website.

The Institute has also published a range of information material and will be discussing the issues at a seminar for members of the Institute of Auctioneers and Valuers (IAVI) later in the year.

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.

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 homes is 200 becquerels per cubic metre (Bq/m3). 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 and the National Radon Survey can be found on the website.