Galway home had 18 times the acceptable level of cancer-causing radon gas

Date released: Oct 07 2011

More than one in five homes tested in Galway have high levels of radon.

West of Tuam has the highest radon risk in the country, with approximately 1 in 2 homes predicted to be above the acceptable level.

A home in the Castlegar area of County Galway has been identified as having extremely high concentrations of radon gas, according to the Radiological Protection Institute of Ireland (RPII). The home had over 18 times the acceptable level of radon and would have resulted in the occupants receiving radiation doses equivalent to approximately 12 chest X-rays per day or over 4300 per year. 

Radon is the second biggest cause of lung cancer after smoking and is linked to about 200 lung cancer deaths each year in Ireland. The RPII believes it is very likely that there are more homes in Galway with high radon levels and is conducting a campaign in Galway next week to raise awareness of the dangers of radon and to urge householders to take the radon test. 

The high level was discovered during the summer following the completion of a radon test undertaken by the householder. A level of 3700 becquerels per cubic metre (Bq/m3) was recorded which is over 18 times the acceptable level. The radiation dose from living with this level of radon is equivalent to receiving approximately 12 chest X-rays per day. The householder immediately carried out remediation work to reduce the radon levels and follow-up measurements are currently under way which will determine if the radon levels are now below the acceptable level. 

Galway has the second highest incidence in the country of homes with high radon levels. More than one in five homes, tested by the RPII to date, has high levels of the radioactive, colourless, odourless, and tasteless gas. The information campaign, which will see an information pack sent to every house in the county starts on Saturday 8th October. 

Ms Stephanie Long, Senior Scientist at the RPII, said: “We have targeted Galway because there is a serious radon problem here. However, radon is only a problem if it is ignored. We are asking people to be proactive, to find out what levels are in their home and to reduce them if they are high. It is easy to test for radon and, if needs be, straightforward to reduce high levels. We would ask homeowners to protect themselves and their families from this unnecessary risk by taking the radon test this week.” 

The RPII has identified large parts of the county and the entire city as a High Radon Area. In some areas, up to 50 per cent of homes are predicted to have high levels. The area west of Tuam as far as Schrule and bounded by and including Kilconly to the north and Belcare to the south, has the highest radon risk in the country, with approximately 1 in 2 homes predicted to be above the acceptable level. The radon risk south of Belclare remains very high. In the areas around Claregalway, Castlegar, Oranmore and large parts of Galway city, such as Renmore, Lough Atalia, Terryland and city centre areas, up to 49 per cent of homes could have high radon levels. 

Ms Long added: “We urge people in these areas to test their homes for radon as there is a real chance they are unknowingly living with very high radon concentrations.” 

Testing for radon and, in the event of a high reading, reducing the levels present are both straightforward. To test for radon, one radon detector is placed in a bedroom and a second in a living room for three months. The detectors are small and are sent and returned by post. There is no need for anyone to visit your home to make the test. Detailed information on radon, its risks, how to get your home or workplace tested, a list of test suppliers and how to reduce high levels, if present, is available on the website or on Freefone 1800 300 600.

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.


Note to Editors: 

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

The cost of testing your home varies depending on which test supplier you choose, but is in the region of €50. 

If your radon level is moderately high then improving indoor ventilation, the cost of which is low, may reduce the level by up to half. For higher radon levels, a fan assisted sump can be installed which can reduce any radon level by over 90%. The sump can be installed in a day with little disruption to your home. The average cost of this work is €1100 (€800 to €2000) with running costs of approximately €90 per year. 

Over the last 18 months, the RPII has 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.