Over 300 homes across the country found with high levels of cancer-causing radon gas

Date released: Jan 27 2012

Galway home found with radon levels 18 times acceptable level.

Almost 2600 people tested their homes for radon gas in the latter half of 2011 with 321 recording high levels, according to new figures released today by the Radiological Protection Institute of Ireland (RPII).

The highest level found was in a home in the Castlegar area of Galway and had an average radon concentration of 3700 becquerels per cubic metre (Bq/m3) or over 18 times above the acceptable level of 200 Bq/m3. Nationally, radon is the second biggest cause of lung cancer after smoking and is directly linked to up to 200 lung cancer deaths each year.

Four homes were identified with radon levels over 2,000 Bq/m3, which is ten times above the acceptable level of 200 Bq/m3. Those homes were located in Sligo, Galway and two in Kerry. A further 24 homes had levels between four and ten times the acceptable level. These homes were located in Galway (6), Waterford (6), Kerry (4), Clare (2), Carlow (1), Donegal (1), Mayo (1), Sligo (1), Tipperary (1) and Wexford (1). Nearly 300 homes had levels up to four times the acceptable level and these were found throughout the country.

Commenting on the latest findings, David Fenton, Senior Scientist at the RPII, said: “Our research shows that Ireland has a significant radon problem and there are thousands of homes across the country with high levels of radon gas. Exposure to high radon levels causes lung cancer and many families are unknowingly living with a high risk to their health. It’s really important for people to test their homes for radon as it’s the only way of knowing if the occupants of the home are exposed to this cancer-causing gas.”

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 are 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 which 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 by a contractor with little disruption to the home. The typical 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, Mayo, Sligo, Tipperary, Waterford and Wexford

A table of radon results measured between the 1 June 2011 and 31 December 2011  is available.

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

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 Galway (3700 Bq/m3) was previously publicised by the RPII in October 2011 but is referenced here to give clarity to all data collected in the period 1st June 2011 to 31st December 2011.

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