RPII urges householders to test for cancer causing radon gas

Date released: Mar 03 2008

The Radiological Protection Institute of Ireland (RPII) has today urged householders to test their homes for the cancer causing radioactive gas radon. The RPII estimate that there are approximately 91,000 homes in Ireland with high levels of radon gas and so far only 4,000 approx. of them have been identified. This follows detection of very high levels of radon gas in a house near Ballyporeen in Co Tipperary.

 The home had a peak reading in one room of 9,000 becquerels per cubic metre (Bq/m3) which is 45 times the acceptable level of 200 Bq/m3. The RPII is concerned that other homes in Ireland, and in particular this area, could have similar problems.   

The Tipperary householder had tested the home for radon gas and once informed of the result took immediate action to fix the problem. In this case a radon sump was installed in the house that prevents high radon concentrations accumulating again. Subsequent measurements have shown the radon concentration to be less than 45 Bq/m3. 

Dr. Tony Colgan, Director of Advisory Services, RPII, said: “It is unnecessary for the public to put themselves at risk from radon. Householders need to take this matter seriously and measure radon levels in their homes to ensure that they and their families are not at risk. Where there is a need to reduce levels, remediation is relatively cheap compared to other household repairs and resolves the situation immediately. People are receiving radiation doses that would not be tolerated by workers in Sellafield and it is unacceptable that they are exposed to such dangerous levels.” 

“One in five homes is predicted to have high radon concentrations in parts of south Tipperary and North Cork. This includes the area east of Ballyporeen towards Clonmel. We have previously identified high radon levels in North Cork especially around Mallow. The identification of this house in south Tipperary is a further reminder that people in these areas could be living with very dangerous levels of radiation in their homes,” said Dr Colgan. 

The RPII has produced a set of maps, available on their website, indicating High Radon Areas – areas where more than 10% of the houses are predicted to have radon levels above the acceptable level. The maps show that nearly one-third of the country is deemed a High Radon Area, with the Southeast and West being of particular concern.

The RPII advises all householders, particularly those living in High Radon Areas, to have their homes tested for radon. Radon is a naturally occurring radioactive gas which has no smell, colour or taste. 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. A number of private companies and the RPII provide a radon measurement service to the public for as little as €56. 

ENDS

Note to Editors: 

In the interest of confidentiality, the identification and exact location of householder will not be made available. 

Radon is a naturally occurring radioactive gas that originates from the decay of uranium in rocks and soils. It has no smell, colour or taste and can only be detected using special detectors. Outdoors radon quickly dilutes to harmless concentrations, but when it enters an enclosed space, such as a house or other building, it can accumulate to unacceptably high concentrations. This gives rise to a radiation dose, which may cause lung cancer. 

Radon is a Class-1 carcinogen. Long-term exposure to radon increases the risk of lung cancer. Based on current knowledge it is estimated that in Ireland, for the population as a whole, a lifetime exposure (i.e. 70 yrs) to radon in the home at the Reference Level of 200 Bq/m3 carries a risk of about 1 in 50 of contracting fatal lung cancer. This is approximately twice the risk of death in a road accident. Radon is linked to approximately 200 lung cancer deaths 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. 

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 a maximum of 15 cent). 

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. 

Since July 1998, every new house is required to incorporate some degree of radon preventive measures at the time of construction in accordance with the revised Building Regulations. The degree of protection required is dependent upon whether or not the site is located within a High Radon Area.