One in six homes in the Cobh area may be at risk from cancer-causing radon gas

Date released: Jan 29 2009

Minister Michael Kitt T.D. commends initiative by the RPII and Cobh Town Council to host public meetings on radon gas to encourage measurement – it’s simple and relatively inexpensive.

One in six homes in Cobh and south Cork may have high levels of radon gas, which is responsible for up to 200 lung cancer deaths in Ireland each year, according to the Radiological Protection Institute of Ireland (RPII). However, radon is easily measured and if high levels are found they can be easily reduced. This is the key message the RPII will give during two public meetings in Cobh aimed at highlighting the hazards of radon. The meetings, organised by Cobh Town Council, will be held in the Community Centre, Cobh at 3 p.m. and again at 8 p.m. on Tuesday 3rd February. The public meetings are free and all are welcome. 

Michael Kitt, T.D., Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government said: “Radon is the principal source of radiation exposure in Ireland. The Government, largely through the Radiological Protection Institute of Ireland, has, for many years now, committed significant resources to assessing the extent of the radon problem throughout the country, and to increasing public awareness of radon and the health risks associated with prolonged exposure to high radon concentrations. I commend the ongoing efforts of the RPII, in partnership with local authorities, to promote radon awareness in the community. I encourage every householder to have their home tested for radon.” 

Mr David Fenton, manager of the RPII’s Radon Advice Section said: “Much of Cobh and south Cork are classified as High Radon Areas. In Cobh, some 16% of the homes the RPII has measured have high radon levels. This compares with 10% of homes in the rest of the county. Many local people could be receiving significant radiation doses which they don’t know about. If you have high radon levels in your home you and your family could be receiving radiation doses equivalent to several chest X-rays per day putting you and your family at increased risk of developing lung cancer.” 

Over 91,000 homes throughout Ireland are thought to have radon concentrations above the national reference level. Nationally, the RPII has tested over 35,000 homes but to date only 4500 homes with high radon levels have been identified. This is just 5% of the number of homes predicted to have high levels of radon. 

“People are not carrying out radon tests possibly 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.” Mr Fenton continued. 

Employers and workers in High Radon Areas also 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.” 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 website or can be obtained on freefone 1800 300 600. 

ENDS

Note 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 www.rpii.ie. A High Radon Area is one where more than 10% of the dwellings are predicted to have annual average radon concentrations above the national reference level. Approximately one third 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.