Public meetings held on the dangers of radon gas in Wexford

Date released: Nov 15 2012

Nearly 300 homes in Wexford, tested to date, above the acceptable level.

Every homeowner needs to take the radon test.

Two public meetings were held in Wexford this week on the dangers of exposure to radon gas. The meetings were part of a wider campaign by the Radiological Protection Institute of Ireland (RPII), to urge people in Wexford to test their homes for the presence of the cancer-causing gas, radon.

The information campaign is supported by the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government, Health Service Executive and Wexford County Council.

The RPII’s campaign is to persuade the people of Wexford to ‘Take the Radon Test’. As part of that campaign every home in Wexford has received an information pack with their post outlining the dangers of the cancer-causing gas, radon. Wexford’s TDs, Senators and Councillors have being briefed on the issue and there has been advertising in local papers and on local radio.

To date the RPII has tested nearly 1,800 homes in Wexford and found nearly 300, or one in six, are above the acceptable level for radon.

Among the findings are 25 homes with radon levels over four times and as high as fourteen times the acceptable level. At these radon levels the radiation dose to the occupants of these homes is equivalent to between three and ten chest X-rays per day, respectively.

These homes were found in Enniscorthy (15), New Ross (3), Bunclody (2), Gorey (2), Ballymoney (1), Barntown (1) and Ferns (1).

Over 250 further homes from around the county had radon levels up to four times the acceptable level. These were predominantly found in High Radon Areas: Enniscorthy (84), Gorey (58), New Ross (53) and Bunclody (18). However, other areas of the county also had homes with high levels.

Radon, a radioactive, odourless, invisible and tasteless gas is the second biggest cause of lung cancer after smoking and is linked to up to 200 lung cancer deaths each year in Ireland.

The meetings heard from Stephanie Long, Senior Scientist with the RPII, who said: “Radon is only a problem if you ignore it. The first step is to protect yourself and your family by testing your house for radon. . A measurement involves posting two radon detectors which are about the size of a digestive biscuit to your house. ; One of these is placed in the living room and one in the bedroom for three months. These are then posted to the measurement company for analysis. It really is as simple as that.”

Ms Long answered a variety of questions from concerned homeowners during the meetings, but summed up by saying: “I know you all have questions which are specifically related to your own home. Every homeowner wonders if they are more or less likely to have high radon levels. The answer is, the only way you can be sure is to take the test.”

Speaking at the public meeting in Enniscorthy, Cllr. Kathleen Codd Nolan, Cathaoirleach of Wexford County Council said: “It’s an important health issue I would urge everyone to test their homes for radon gas. Testing is the only way to make sure you and your family are safe.”

Testing your home for radon gas is easy. The test involves two radon detectors being placed in your home, one 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. A number of service providers provide a radon measurement service. The cost of a measurement is around €50 depending on which service provider is chosen and includes postage.

If radon reduction is required there are two straightforward methods commonly used. If a moderate radon level is found, improving indoor ventilation may be sufficient and the cost of this is relatively low. If higher levels are found, 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 the fan costing approximately €90 per year to run.

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. On the website, they can also 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 the Radiological Protection Institute of Ireland on Freefone 1800 300 600.

ENDS

Note to editors

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. For most people it is the largest single part of their annual radiation exposure.

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.

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, Heritage 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.