Radon lung cancer risk 25 times greater for smokers

Date released: Sep 27 2005

Radon lung cancer risk 25 times greater for smokers. Latest research confirms RPII radon risk estimates. Joint Press Release from Radiological Protection Institute of Ireland and National Cancer Registry.

Smokers are 25 times more likely than non-smokers to develop lung cancer due to radon gas, according to a recent Europe-wide survey on the health risks of radon gas, which has been reviewed by the Radiological Protection Institute of Ireland (RPII) and the National Cancer Registry of Ireland (NCRI).

When applied to the Irish situation, the results of the research suggest that radon is directly responsible for up to 200 lung cancer deaths each year and that those whose lungs have also been damaged by tobacco smoke account for the vast majority of these deaths. Passive smokers are also at greater risk, as are former smokers, who remain at increased risk for many years after they quit.

“Our state of knowledge about the health implications of exposure to radon is evolving all the time. This latest study, which looked at over 7,000 lung cancer deaths in nine European countries, is the largest epidemiological investigation ever carried out on radon in homes. It confirms earlier general risk estimates, and for the first time, gives numerical estimates for the risks of radon exposure to smokers. ”, said RPII Chief Executive Dr Ann McGarry.

Dr Harry Comber, Director of the NCRI said, “Smoking remains the most important cause of lung cancer in Ireland, but when combined with radon exposure, the risk is even higher. For example, the risk of developing lung cancer for smokers who are also exposed to radon at the national reference level is about one in 30. Although radon can also cause lung cancer in people who never smoked the risk is much lower, at about 1 in 700 at the national reference level. This level of risk equates to about 17 deaths per annum.”

“The advice from the RPII remains the same. There is no reason for anyone to be at risk from radon exposure, whether they are smokers or not. Testing is cheap and easy, and remediation where required is extremely cost effective.” said Dr McGarry.

More information on the health risks associated with radon exposure and the levels of radon measured in Ireland can be found on the RPII’s website www.rpii.ie or by phoning freefone 1800300600. Information on the incidence, mortality, prevalence and classification of cancer can be found on the NCRI’s website www.ncri.ie.


Executive Summary: Health Risks due to Exposure to Radon in Homes in Ireland

Full report: Health Risks due to Exposure to Radon in Homes in Ireland


Note 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.

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.

The RPII estimate that up to 91,000 homes in the country have radon concentrations above the national reference level.

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.
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.