World Health Organisation highlights worldwide health risk from radon

Date released: Nov 16 2006

Ireland has one of the highest average radon levels in Europe according to RPII.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) today highlighted that globally between 6 and 15% of lung cancer deaths per year are caused by exposure to indoor radon, which equates to anywhere between 70,000 and 170,000 deaths worldwide every year. From Radiological Protection Institute of Ireland (RPII) estimates, 13% of lung cancer deaths in Ireland are attributable to exposure to radon. This is clearly at the upper end of the scale and reflects the high radon levels found in Irish homes. These figures were presented by Dr Hajo Zeeb, co-ordinator of the WHO’s International Radon Project at the fifth National Radon Forum in Galway.

The Forum, hosted by the RPII, is a public meeting that provides an opportunity for Government agencies, health professionals, architects, engineers, radon measurement laboratories and the radon remediation industry to discuss issues on radon. A major theme of this year’s Forum is to compare experience in addressing the radon risk globally and at a local level here in Ireland to determine the most effective strategies.

In his keynote address, Dr Zeeb said: “Exposure to radon in homes and workplaces is one of the main radiation risks. The aim of WHO’s International Radon Project is to reduce the number of deaths due to indoor radon. Prevention or remediation is relatively easy, however, according to reports from WHO member states, people and politicians are not taking enough notice of this problem. WHO can bring together many countries to strengthen international approaches to reduce radon health effects and help raise awareness among the public”.

Dr Ann McGarry, Chief Executive of the RPII said: “Ireland has one of the highest average radon levels in Europe and we estimate that up to 200 Irish people each year die from lung cancer as a result of exposure to radon gas. For their own safety, we again urge the public to measure the levels of radon in their homes. The speakers from the WHO and the UK’s Health Protection Agency demonstrate that the radon risk is not just an Irish problem and that we all need to take this risk seriously.”

“Our experience also is that local authorities can play a key role in promoting local awareness of radon. The RPII is working nationally to raise public awareness and we are very appreciative of the assistance of local authorities, such as South Tipperary County Council, who have taken effective steps to promote awareness of radon in their area” concluded Dr McGarry.

Also speaking at the event today was Mr Denis Holland, Senior Engineer, South Tipperary County Council; Dr Eibhlìn Doyle, Geological Survey of Ireland; Ms Mary Heery, Senior Environmental Health Officer, Health Service Executive - West; Mr Jon Miles, Radiation Protection Division of the Health Protection Agency, UK and Mr David Fenton of the RPII.

Detailed information on radon and its risks, including information on how to get your home or workplace tested for radon is available on the 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 maximum 15 cents).


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 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 Radiological Protection Act 1991, (Ionising Radiation) Order, 2000. S.I. No. 125 of 2000 empowers the RPII to direct employers to carry out radon measurements in their workplace. Once directed an employer has six months to comply and complete the measurement and inform the RPII of the result.