It could take 400 years to measure housing stock for radon

Date released: Nov 19 2009

A cohesive national strategy is needed to tackle this problem.

It could take 400 years to measure all homes in the country for cancer-causing radon gas, which is linked to 200 lung cancer deaths every year, the National Radon Forum was told today. 

The forum, held in Dublin, was told that the Radiological Protection Institute of Ireland (RPII) estimates that at the current rate at which houses are being tested, testing of the State’s current housing stock would not be finished for four centuries. 

The Chief Executive of the RPII Dr Ann McGarry said today that this rate was unacceptably slow. “People who could detect high levels of this gas and take remedial action are not doing so, thus exposing themselves to unnecessary risks”, she said. “Some local authorities have taken a lead in testing their housing stock, but others need to follow this example. Most importantly, 80% of houses are privately owned and home-owners need to take action. Testing your house for radon is easy and will bring great peace of mind. Details of how to organise a test can be found on the website.” 

The Forum, organised by the RPII, was opened by Mr. Michael Finneran, T.D., Minister of State at the Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government, with special responsibility for Housing and Local Services. 

The Forum discussed radon as a public health issue, policies to improve the rate of testing in homes, addressing radon in social housing and the use of health economics techniques such as cost effectiveness analysis to ensure the best impact for the spend on radon control measures. One policy currently recommended by the World Health Organisation to improve the rate of measurement of homes is the inclusion of radon measurements in the conveyancing process. The forum heard details of how this policy is implemented in other countries including England and Wales. 

Dr Ann McGarry, Chief Executive of the RPII, said: “Radon is linked to some 200 lung cancer deaths in Ireland each year. Currently, the vast majority of homeowners have not had their home measured for radon and therefore have no idea of their risk of lung cancer from this radioactive gas. It is clear that the rate of measurement has to increase and that homeowners need to get a measurement made as a first step in reducing their risk”. 

The Forum heard that, in any country, no one agency is equipped to effectively tackle the radon problem. Reducing the risk to the public from radon requires input from many national agencies working together as part of a cohesive and cost effective team. This strategy is best developed at a national level. Minister of State, Michael Finneran, T.D., said: “To date, there has been good co-operation between state agencies on reducing the risk from radon. It is important now that this co-operation is developed into a cohesive national strategy to tackle this problem effectively”. 

Today’s National Radon Forum is the seventh in a series of fora that provide the opportunity for Government agencies, health professionals, local authorities, radon measurement companies and the radon remediation industry to discuss issues on radon. Speakers at today’s event included experts from the Health Service Executive, the University of Oxford 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. 


Notes 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, and tends to concentrate in enclosed spaces such as houses or workplaces. 

Recent studies on indoor radon and lung cancer in Europe, North America and Asia provide epidemiological evidence that radon causes a substantial number of lung cancers in the general population – radon is the second cause of lung cancer after smoking. In Ireland, radon is linked to up to 200 lung cancers per year, most of which are preventable.

Most of the radon-induced lung cancer cases will occur among smokers, or former smokers, due to the strong combined effect of smoking and radon. 

Recently, the World Health Organisation published a handbook for countries that plan to develop national programmes or extend their activities regarding radon. The choice of radon prevention and remediation techniques can be based on analysis of cost effectiveness. In this approach, net health-care costs are set in relation to net health benefits for a variety of actions or policies, providing an index with which these actions can be prioritised.