South-east at risk from cancer-causing radon gas

Date released: Mar 03 2006

Up to one in five homes may have high levels of radon gas

Up to one in five homes in South Tipperary and Waterford may have high levels of radon gas, which is responsible for up to 200 lung cancer deaths in Ireland each year, or 10 to 15 per cent of all such cases in Ireland, according to the Radiological Protection Institute of Ireland (RPII).

As part of a comprehensive awareness campaign, the RPII will be in Clonmel over the next week for a series of events to highlight the risks of exposure to the gas.

“Some of the areas of the country most at risk from radon exposure are in South Tipperary and Waterford. For example, in Clonmel, nearly one in five of homes measured by the RPII has high levels of radon. These householders and their families are at increased risk of developing lung cancer. On our visit to Clonmel we want to reach as many people as possible to let them know about radon, and most importantly how they can reduce the risks to themselves and their families”, said Mr David Fenton, manager of the RPII’s Radon Advice Section.

It is estimated that 91,000 homes throughout Ireland have radon concentrations above the national reference level. Nationally, the RPII has tested more than 27,000 homes but to date less than 3,500 homes with high radon levels have been identified. This is less than 4% of the number of homes predicted to have high levels of radon. “People are not carrying out radon tests probably due to a lack of knowledge and also perhaps due to the anxiety that finding high radon levels may cause. We hope to reassure people that testing for radon is simple and, where necessary, remedial work is relatively straightforward and cost effective,” added Mr Fenton.

Employers and workers, particularly those in High Radon Areas, need to be aware of the potential health effects of radon in the workplace. “According to the Health and Safety Authority, all indoor workplaces in High Radon Areas located at ground or basement level must be measured for radon. Employers with businesses in other areas should also adopt a pro-active approach and measure for radon” added Mr Fenton.

Radon 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 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 cents).

The schedule for the RPII visit is as follows:

Friday, March 3

  • The RPII will give a briefing to local media at the Hotel Minella, Coleville Road, Clonmel at 12:00 noon.

Monday, March 6

  • Mr David Fenton manager RPII Radon Advisory Services will give a presentation on radon to students at Árd Scoil na mBraithre at 10:00
  • Mr David Fenton, will give a presentation on what is known about radon in south Tipperary to meeting of South Tipperary County Council at 15:00

Wednesday, March 8

  • Dr Catherine Organo, Scientific Officer, RPII Radon Advisory Services will give a presentation to the Clonmel guild of the Irish Country Women’s association at the Denis Lacey hall in Clonmel at 21:00

Thursday, March 9

  • Dr Catherine Organo, Scientific Officer, RPII Radon Advisory Services will give a presentation to an information forum the local branch of Teagasc at their Clonmel offices at 10:30.

Friday, March 10

  • An RPII information stand will be in operation in the Tesco store Gladstone Street Clonmel from 15:00 to 19:00 and Dunnes Stores Oakville Shopping Centre. RPII staff will be happy to meet members of the public and employers to discuss issues related to radon.

Saturday, March 11

  • An RPII information stand will be in operation in the Tesco store Gladstone Street Clonmel and Dunnes Stores Oakville Shopping centre from 11:00 onwards.

Notes to Editors:
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 considerably greater than for people who never smoked.

In certain circumstances radon can build up to unacceptable high concentrations becoming a health risk to the occupants of a building. 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.

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.

ENDS