World Health Organisation endorses Ireland’s new approach to tackling the health risk from radon RPI

Date released: Nov 06 2008

Ireland ranks sixth in the World for the highest average radon gas levels, according to WHO.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has today advocated for the new multi-agency approach used recently in Cork to address the health risk from radon gas. The new approach was supported by Mr. Mícheál Kitt, T.D., Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government at the National Radon Forum in Dublin today. The strategy requires local authorities, the Health Service Executive (HSE) and the Radiological Protection Institute of Ireland (RPII) to work closely together to measure radon gas levels, assess health risks, advise on how to reduce radon levels and implement required changes. 

Speaking at the Forum in Dublin, Dr Ferid Shannoun, co-ordinator of the WHO’s International Radon Project said, “The multi-agency approach showcased in Cork in recent months is exactly the type of best practice recommended by the WHO International Radon Project. We are convinced that in any country no one agency is equipped to effectively tackle the problem. This is particularly the case in a country like Ireland that has such high radon levels.” Ireland has the 6th highest radon levels in the world, according to a WHO survey of the highest average radon gas levels in homes. The highest is Finland and the lowest is Japan. 

Following the discovery by the RPII of high levels of radon gas in the north Cork area, Cork County Council and Mallow Town Council measured their housing stock to ascertain if there were high radon gas levels present. Where high levels were found, the HSE and RPII worked closely with Cork County Council to assess the health risk to residents in these homes and advised on how to reduce the radon levels. This co-operation helped to re-assure the public and dealt effectively with their concerns. The County Council has already remediated those homes with very high radon levels and is implementing an on-going programme of remediation in all local authority houses found to be above the national Reference Level. 

Minister of State, Mícheál Kitt, T.D., who opened today’s event, said that co-operation among State agencies is the key to reducing our risk from radon. The Minister said that “high radon levels are found in a wide range of workplaces and homes all over Ireland and it is important that agencies work together to minimise the risk to health.” 

Dr Ann McGarry, Chief Executive of the RPII said, “Radon is the second biggest cause of lung cancer in Ireland, causing up to 200 deaths per year. The WHO survey shows again that Ireland has exceptionally high radon levels. This makes it all the more important that the model of co-operation and collaboration between State agencies is used by local authorities.” 

The National Radon Forum, hosted by the RPII, provides the opportunity for Government agencies, health professionals, architects, engineers, radon measurement companies and the radon remediation industry to discuss issues on radon. This year’s Forum will look at ways that State agencies can collaborate to assess, communicate and fix radon problems. It will showcase the successful approach taken in Cork and encourage the roll-out of this strategy nationally. 

Speakers at the event include experts from the WHO, the HSE, Cork County Council and 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 on freefone 1800 300 600. 

ENDS 

Note to Editor: 

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 over 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 www.rpii.ie. A High Radon Area is an area where more than 10% of the homes 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 can be up to 25 times greater than for people who never smoked.