Radon Prevention Aided by New Building Regulations but Testing Still Required

Date released: Jun 20 2005

RPII surveys shows a reduction of one-third in average radon levels in new homes built in Kilkenny. RPII visits Kilkenny to heighten awareness of risks from radon in the area.

A recent survey in Kilkenny by the Radiological Protection Institute of Ireland (RPII) of homes built since 1998 shows a reduction of approximately 33% in the average radon levels in new homes incorporating the radon preventative measures required by building regulations which came into force in July 1998.

The results are being presented today to Kilkenny County Council as part of the RPII’s public awareness campaign which will take place in Kilkenny city on the 20th and 21st of June 2005.

According to the RPII, these results are in line with those from similar surveys in Ennis and Tralee. While the reduction in radon concentrations is to be welcomed, the results also highlight that the building regulations alone cannot guarantee that homes are adequately protected. Mr. David Fenton, Manager of the Radon Advice Section in the RPII commented that “While lower radon levels in new build homes is a positive thing, some of the highest radon levels found in the survey were in new homes – including one more than seven times the national Reference Level of 200 Becquerels per cubic metre (Bq/m3). The only proper precaution for any home is to ensure it is tested for radon after it has been occupied. Testing for radon is straightforward and inexpensive (typically about €45 per home), so there is no need for anyone to live with the risk”.

In the Kilkenny survey, radon concentrations were measured in 85 houses comprising:

  1. 52 houses built between 1992 and 1997 that would normally not have radon preventive measures fitted; and 
  2. 33 houses built after July 1998 which should have both a standby radon sump and radon barrier fitted.

Radon concentrations above the national Reference Level were found in three homes built before 1998 (the highest radon concentration found was slightly over 400 Bq/m3) and three built after 1998 (the highest radon concentration found was approximately 1,550 Bq/m3).
However, a downward trend was observed in average radon levels in new homes compared with those built before 1998. New build homes had average radon concentrations of 49 Bq/m3, which is approximately 33% lower than the corresponding average of 73 Bq/m3 for homes built between 1992 and 1997 and 76 Bq/m3 found in homes in the same national grid square during the National Radon Survey.

An evaluation of homeowner’s awareness of radon preventive measures showed that 42% and 24% of respondents respectively were unaware of the presence or absence of a radon sump or a radon barrier in their homes. Commenting on this finding, Mr Fenton said “There seems to be a gap in the information that is available to the public on this particular issue. The Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government published enhanced radon prevention guidance for new buildings last October. The guidance calls for radon sump outlets to be clearly identified and this should help raise awareness among householders and throughout the building industry”.

During its visit to Kilkenny, the RPII will also meet with representatives of Kilkenny Chamber of Commerce to discuss the regulations governing radon gas in workplaces and will man a public information stand in Market Cross Shopping Centre where people can obtain more information on radon.

The schedule for the RPII visit is as follows

Monday 20th June

  • The RPII will give a presentation at 16:00 to Kilkenny County Council on the results of its survey.
  • An RPII information stand will be in operation in Market Cross Shopping Centre in Kilkenny city from 14:00 to 18:00. Staff will be available to meet members of the public and employers to discuss issues related to radon.

Tuesday 21st June

  • An RPII information stand will be in operation in Market Cross Shopping Centre in Kilkenny city from 10:00 to 18:00. Staff will be happy to meet members of the public and employers to discuss issues related to radon.
  • The RPII will meet with representatives of Kilkenny Chamber of Commerce to discuss radon as a Health and Safety issue for employers in the Kilkenny area.

ENDS

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.

Long term exposure to radon increases the risk of lung cancer. Radon gives rise to between 150 and 200 lung cancer cases in Ireland every year. For people who smoke, or who have smoked, the risk from radon is considerably greater than for people who never smoked.

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.

High Radon Areas are shown on maps published on the RPII website. A High Radon Area is an area where more than 10% of the dwellings are predicted to have annual average radon concentrations above the national reference level. High Radon Areas were defined following a National Radon Survey in dwellings between 1992 and 1999. Approximately 33% of the country, including much of Kilkenny city and county, is classified as a High Radon Area.

The 1997 amending Building Regulations require that reasonable precautions are taken to avoid danger to health and safety caused by substances in the ground. Radon gas is such a substance and Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government have published guidance through Technical Guidance Document-C which requires that all new homes, built since 1 July 1998, should have a potential means to extract radon from the substructure such as a standby radon sump. In addition, all new houses in High Radon Areas require the fitting of an approved sealed membrane (radon barrier) of low radon permeability over the footprint of the building.

The RPII advises all householders, particularly those living in High Radon Areas, to have their homes tested for radon. Testing for radon involves the placing of one radon detector in a bedroom and a second in a living room for a three-month period. The detectors are the size of an air freshener and can be sent and returned by post for analysis.

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