Over 800 homes across the country found with high levels of cancer causing radon gas

Date released: Jun 16 2011

Kerry home with radon levels amongst the highest in Europe.

A record number of homes from across the country have been identified with high levels of radon gas according to new figures released today by the Radiological Protection Institute of Ireland (RPII). 

Among the findings is a home in north Kerry with extraordinarily high concentrations of the cancer-causing radioactive gas which is amongst the highest ever found in Europe. 

Nationally, radon is the second biggest cause of lung cancer after smoking and is directly linked to about 200 lung cancer deaths each year. 

Almost 5,000 people tested their homes for radon during the nine-month period between 1st September 2010 and 1st June 2011 and over 800 of those have recorded a high level. The highest level found was in a home in the Castleisland area of north Kerry and had an average radon concentration of 37,000 becquerels per cubic metre (Bq/m3) or 185 times above the acceptable level of 200 Bq/m3. It is located only a few kilometres away from the highest ever reading in an Irish house of 49,000 Bq/m3 found in 2003.

Eighteen homes were identified over 2,000 Bq/m3, which is ten times above the acceptable level of 200 Bq/m3. Those homes were located in Sligo (3), Tipperary (2), Galway (2), Cork (2), Wexford (2), Carlow (3), Donegal (1), Kerry (2), and Waterford (1). 

A further 93 homes had levels between 4 and 10 times the acceptable level. These homes were located in Waterford (18), Clare (14), Mayo (14), Galway (13), Sligo (11), Cork (5), Kilkenny (5), Wicklow (4), Kerry (3), Carlow (2), Dublin (1), Roscommon (1), Tipperary (1) and Wexford (1). More than 700 homes had levels up to 4 times the acceptable level and were found throughout the country. 

Commenting on the latest findings, Chief Executive of the RPII Dr Ann McGarry said: “These figures show that Ireland has a significant radon problem. Based on the National Radon Survey, we predict that there are thousands more homes across the country with high levels of radon gas. To date, only a very small proportion of these homes have been identified. Exposure to high radon levels causes lung cancer and many people are unknowingly living with very high levels in their homes. The only way people will know if it is in their homes is by testing.” 

Measuring for radon and, in the event of a high reading, reducing the levels present are both easy to do. 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 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 around €50.

If a moderate radon level is found, improving indoor ventilation may reduce the level by up to half. The cost of doing this is low. For higher levels, a fan assisted sump can be installed which can reduce radon levels by over 90%. The sump can be installed in a day with little disruption to the home. The average cost of this work is €1,100 with annual running costs of approximately €90.

An interactive map is available on the website so that anyone can search for their address or nearest town to see whether their home or workplace is in a High Radon Area. 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 by phoning Freefone 1800 300 600.   

ENDS

Note to Editors: 

County specific press releases are available for: Carlow, Clare, Cork, Galway, Kerry, Kilkenny, Mayo, Sligo, Tipperary, Waterford, Wexford and Wicklow

In the interest of confidentiality, the identification and exact location of the homes with high radon results will not be made available. 

The high result in Kerry (37,000 Bq/m3) and two others in Carlow, were measured by private measurement companies and the RPII was informed of these findings. 

Over the last 18 months the RPII conducted comprehensive public information campaigns on the risks from radon in Counties Sligo, Carlow, Waterford and South Tipperary. 

Data for all radon measurements undertaken since the early 1990s to-date.

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. 

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. For people who smoke, or who have smoked, the risk from radon is up to 25 times greater than for people who never smoked. 

Specific guidance on radon prevention measures for new homes is contained the “Building Regulations 1997, Technical Guidance Document C – site preparation and resistance to moisture” which is published by The Department of Environment, Community and Local Government.

The guidance specifies that all new homes, built since 1st July 1998, must be fitted with a standby radon sump which can be activated at a later stage to reduce any high radon concentrations subsequently found. For homes built in High Radon Areas, the installation of a radon barrier as well as a standby radon sump is required.