Waterford at risk from cancer-causing radon gas

Date released: Jul 29 2009

Householders in Waterford need to test for radon as 1 in 5 could be at risk.

The Radiological Protection Institute of Ireland (RPII) has identified a house in Co Waterford with concentrations of radon gas 16 times above the acceptable level. The RPII believes it is very likely that there are more homes in Waterford with similarly high radon levels and urges local people to test for radon and reduce their risk of lung cancer. Nationally, radon is linked to 200 lung cancer deaths per year. 

The home, which is located in near Tramore, had a measurement of 3140 becquerels of radon per cubic metre (Bq/m3). At these radon levels the radiation dose to the householder would be equivalent to receiving over 3900 chest X-rays a year. 

Commenting on the measurement, Mr. David Fenton, Manager of Radon Advice at the RPII said: “Some of the highest radon levels we have measured in the country have been in Waterford. Last year, a house in the vicinity had a measurement of 9000 Bq/m3 and this latest reading reinforces our message that people locally really need to measure their homes for radon. Radon has no smell, taste or colour so families can unknowingly be living with high radon levels putting themselves at increased risk of developing lung cancer”. 

To date, the RPII has measured 1040 homes in Co Waterford and found that over 1 in 5 homes are above the acceptable level. The RPII has identified the area south of the River Suir and bounded by and including Waterford city to the north-east, Tramore to the south-east, Bunmahon to the south-west and Kilmacthomas to the west as being at particularly high risk from radon. Mr. Fenton added that, “The RPII advises that all homes, particularly those located in High Radon Areas, should be measured for radon.” 

The RPII has redeveloped its website so that anyone can now search for their address on an interactive radon map to see whether their home or workplace is in an area predicted to have high radon levels. They can find out what they need to know about radon – what it is, why it is a problem and how they can have a measurement made. Information can also be obtained on freefone 1800 300 600. 


Note to Editors: 

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

Radon is the second biggest cause of lung cancer in Ireland – causing up to 200 deaths per year. Over 100,000 homes and workplaces throughout Ireland are thought to have radon levels above the acceptable limit. 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. 

The national Reference Level for radon in homes is 200 becquerels per cubic metre (Bq/m3). The Becquerel is the unit of radioactivity. 

To test for radon, one radon detector is placed in a bedroom and a second in a living room for a three-month period. The detectors are small and can be sent and returned by post for analysis. The RPII and a number of private companies provide a radon measurement service. The cost of a measurement is between €40 and €80.   

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 years) 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.   

Indoor radon concentrations can vary considerably from day to day due to changes in weather conditions, ventilation rates, etc. and for this reason the current recommended measurement period is not less than three months. The RPII are carrying out research to see if this period can be reduced to one month.