South East at significant cancer risk from deadly radon gas

Date released: Oct 07 2005

Up to half of homes in some areas above safety level. RPII to highlight radon danger in Waterford

Up to one in five homes in the South-East and nearly every second home in parts of Waterford City and county may have high levels of the cancer-causing gas radon, which is responsible for up to 200 cases of lung cancer deaths in Ireland each year, according to the Radiological Protection Institute of Ireland (RPII).

The RPII will be in Waterford for a series of events over the next two weeks as part of a comprehensive awareness campaign to highlight the risks of exposure to the gas.

“Some of the areas most at risk from radon exposure in Ireland are in the South East, and particularly in Waterford. Many people living and working in the area are receiving doses of radiation that put them at an increased risk of getting lung cancer. We are trying to ensure that everyone who lives in a High Radon Area knows about it and knows what they should do – both at home and in the workplace”, said Mr David Fenton, manager of the RPII’s Radon Advice Section.

Almost 20% of homes in Waterford and Carlow have high radon levels and in Wexford and Kilkenny some 14% are predicted to be high. Two particular blackspots are a grid square area around Kilmacthomas and Kilmeaden, and another around Waterford City where some 46% and 40% respectively of all homes are predicted to have high levels of radon. The Kilmacthomas area rates second worst in Ireland for radon risk.

It is estimated that 91,000 homes throughout Ireland have radon levels above the national reference level. Despite the RPII testing more than 25,600 homes, only around 3,500 of the problem houses have been detected. People are not getting tests carried out due to lack of knowledge about the situation and also, perhaps due to nervousness. The RPII aims to greatly increase detection rates.

Recent Health and Safety legislation has directed that all business premises in High Radon Areas be tested, in order to protect the welfare of employees. The RPII recommends that employers with premises in other areas adopt a pro-active approach and measure for radon too.

“Testing for radon is simple, and if necessary remediation is relatively straightforward and cost effective – particularly when you consider you are dealing with your family’s health. On our visit to the region we want to reach as many people as possible to let them know about radon, and most importantly how they can reduce the risk to themselves, their families and employees”, said Mr Fenton.

Radon is estimated to cause up to 200 cases of lung cancer each year, or 10 to 15 per cent of all such cases in Ireland. It is a naturally occurring radioactive gas produced in all rocks and soils and because it is a gas it can move relatively freely through the ground entering buildings through any cracks or gaps that exist in floors. In certain circumstances radon can build up to unacceptable high concentrations becoming a health risk to the occupants of a building.

Detailed information on radon and its risks, including information on how to get your home or workplace tested for radon is available on the RPII’s website. or can be obtained on freefone 1800 300 600 or by texting the word RADON followed by your name and address to 53377. (Texts cost a maximum of 15 cent).

The schedule for the RPII Waterford visit is as follows:

Wednesday October 12

  • The RPII will give a presentation on radon to pupils of St Declan’s Community College, Kilmacthomas at 1:30pm.

Thursday October 13

  • An RPII information stand will be in operation in the City Square Shopping Centre in Waterford from 10am to 6pm. RPII staff will be happy to meet members of the public and employers to discuss issues related to radon.

Friday October 14

  • An RPII information stand will be in operation in the City Square Shopping Centre in Waterford from 10am until lunchtime.

Tuesday October 18

  • The RPII will give a presentation on radon and its implications for employers at a Health and Safety in the workplace seminar, organised by Waterford Chamber of Commerce. This seminar will take place at the Waterford Chamber of Commerce, George’s Street, Waterford, starting at 9am.

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 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.

Approximately 33% of the country is classified as a High Radon Area. These areas are most prevalent in the South-East and the West.

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.

Long term exposure to radon increases the risk of lung cancer. Radon can be linked to up to 200 lung cancer cases in Ireland every year. For people who smoke, or who have smoked, the risk from radon is can be up to 25 times greater than for people who never smoked.
The 1997 amending Building Regulations require that reasonable precautions be 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.