Over 340 homes found with high levels of cancer-causing radon gas in the first five months of this year

Date released: Jun 28 2012

Galway home found with 19 times the acceptable level.

341 homes were identified with high levels of cancer-causing radon gas in the first five months of this year according to new figures released today by the Radiological Protection Institute of Ireland (RPII). Radon is the second biggest cause of lung cancer after smoking and is directly linked to up to 200 lung cancer deaths in Ireland each year.

Commenting on the latest findings, Ms Stephanie Long, Senior Scientist at the RPII, said: “It is very encouraging that almost 2,400 homeowners completed a radon test of their home in the first five months of this year. We hope that this trend continues and results in less people being exposed to this cancer-causing gas.”

The highest radon level found was in a home in Galway city which was 19 times the acceptable level. This is the highest level ever found in a home in Galway and the occupants were receiving the equivalent of approximately 13 chest X-rays per day.

Six homes, five in Galway and one in Kerry, were identified with radon levels in excess of ten times the acceptable level. A further 42 homes had levels between four and ten times the acceptable level and were located in Galway (31), Tipperary (3), Clare (2), Cork (2), Wexford (2), Kerry (1) and Sligo (1).

The remaining 293 homes had levels up to four times the acceptable level and were found, as predicted, in High Radon Areas throughout the country.

Ms Long said: “Ireland has a significant radon problem with some of the highest radon levels found in Europe. Our research indicates that there are over 91,000 homes with high levels of radon and only about 7,500 have been found to date. Exposure to high radon levels causes lung cancer and many families are unknowingly living with a high risk to their health. People need to take the radon test and if high levels are found the problem should be fixed.”

Measuring for radon and, in the event of a high reading, fixing the problem 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 depending on which measurement company is chosen.

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.


Note to Editors:

County specific press releases are available for: Galway, Kerry, Clare, Cork, Sligo, and  Tipperary 

A table of radon results measured between the 1 January 2012 and 31 May 2012

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

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

Data for all radon measurements, undertaken by the RPII 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 (or acceptable level) for radon in homes is 200 becquerels per cubic metre (Bq/m3). The becquerel is the unit of radioactivity. A 'High Radon Area' is one in which more than 10 per cent of homes are predicted to have radon levels in excess of the national Reference Level.

There is direct evidence for a link between radon in the home and lung cancer. Radon has been classified by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) as a Group 1 carcinogen together with asbestos and tobacco smoke.

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 (or acceptable 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.