Ireland’s second highest radon level detected by RPII in Cork

Date released: Sep 20 2007

The Radiological Protection Institute of Ireland (RPII) has detected an office in Cork with the second highest level of radon gas ever found in Ireland and the highest ever found in a workplace. The level detected is over 60 times higher than the acceptable limit and it is estimated that working eight hours a day in the office would be equivalent to receiving 39 chest X-rays per day or nearly 10,000 chest X-rays in a working year.

An average level of 25,500 Bq/m3 was detected in one of the offices of The Corkman newspaper in Mallow, Co. Cork. The maximum legally acceptable limit in a workplace is 400 Bq/m3. In this case, the office in question was largely unoccupied and, on that basis, the employees would not have received such high radiation doses. On being told by the RPII of the high levels present in the office, the employer took immediate action to fix the problem. 

Dr. Ann McGarry, Chief Executive of the RPII, said: “Given that you cannot smell, see or taste radon, people just don’t realise they may be working and living with radiation levels that are above the legal limit for workers in a nuclear power plant. Radon is the second biggest cause of lung cancer in Ireland – causing up to 200 deaths per year. We estimate that over 100,000 homes and workplaces throughout Ireland have levels of radon that exceed the acceptable limit. It is irresponsible of employers and homeowners not to ensure that radon levels are within the acceptable limits. The message is clear: measure radon in your home and workplace and fix the problem if the levels are high; you don’t have to live or work with the risk.”

“In order to comply with requirements of health and safety legislation, radon measurements must be carried out in all ground-floor workplaces in High Radon Areas and levels reduced if they exceed the values laid down in legislation” continued Dr McGarry. “I commend The Corkman newspaper for their proactive approach in ensuring their employees are protected from radon; all other employers should follow their example.” The RPII have published a set of maps, available on the website, which show that nearly one-third of the country is deemed a High Radon Area. Testing for radon is cheap, simple and can be done by post. 

ENDS 

Notes to Editors: 

Radon is a naturally occurring radioactive gas. You cannot smell it, see it or taste it and it 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. As it is a gas, radon can 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. For people who smoke, or who have smoked, the risk from radon is considerably greater than for people who never smoked. 

Radon is classified as a Class A carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), which is part of the World Health Organization. This means that there is direct evidence from human studies to support the link between exposure to radon and the induction of lung cancer. After cigarette smoking, long-term exposure to radon gas is the next greatest single cause of lung cancer in Ireland. 

Since May 2000, exposure to natural radiation sources in the workplace has been governed by the "Radiological Protection Act, 1991 (Ionising Radiation) Order, 2000" (Statutory Instrument 125 of 2000). The Order sets a national Reference Level for radon gas in workplaces of 400 Bq/m3 averaged over any three-month period. In accordance with the Order, an employer or self-employed person responsible for a workplace is required to measure radon levels in the workplace on being directed to do so by the RPII. If high levels are found the employer should take prompt steps to reduce the levels. 

The Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act, 2005, requires employers to identify hazards in the workplace, assess the risk to health and safety from these hazards and put in place measures to eliminate or reduce the risk. In order to assess the risk from radon, the Health and Safety Authority has stated that all indoor workplaces in High Radon Areas must have radon measurements carried out.

A list of approved measurement services is available on the website together with detailed information on radon and its risks. Information on how to get a 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).