Over 430 homes found with high levels of cancer-causing gas, radon

Date released: Nov 07 2013

Over 430 homes found with high levels of cancer-causing gas, radon

Tralee home had 26 times the acceptable level, equivalent to 6500 chest X-rays per year.

434 homes were identified with high levels of cancer-causing radon gas in the past year and a half 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 more than 200 lung cancer deaths in Ireland each year.

Commenting on the latest findings, Dr Ann McGarry, Chief Executive of the RPII, 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 just over 7,900 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. The fact is that every second day someone dies from radon-induced lung cancer. People need to take the radon test to make sure they are not being exposed to this cancer causing gas in their home.”

The highest radon level found was in a home in Tralee, Kerry which was 26 times the acceptable level. The occupants were receiving the equivalent radiation dose of approximately 18 chest X-rays per day or 6500 per year.

Ten other homes, five in Kerry, three in Galway and one each in Clare and Wexford were identified with radon levels in excess of 10 times the acceptable level. Occupants in these homes received an equivalent radiation dose of more than 2500 chest X-rays per year.

A further 39 homes had radon levels between 4 and 10 times the acceptable level and were located in Galway (15), Wexford (6), Kerry (4), Sligo (4), Cork (2), Wicklow (2), Clare (1), Limerick (1), Louth (1), Mayo (1), Tipperary (1) and Waterford (1).

The remaining 384 homes had radon levels up to 4 times the acceptable level and were found, as predicted, in High Radon Areas throughout the country.

Dr McGarry said: “It is encouraging that over 3,000 homeowners completed a radon test of their home in the past year and a half and I would encourage anyone who is living in a high radon area to take the radon test today.”

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, installation of a fan assisted sump is the most common method of remediation 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 around €850 with annual running costs of approximately €100 depending on the size of fan installed.

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: Carlow, Clare, Cork, Galway, Kerry, Louth, Mayo, Sligo, Tipperary, Waterford and Wexford.

A table of radon results measured between the 31 May 2012 and 21st October 2013

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 three years the RPII has conducted comprehensive public information campaigns on the risks from radon in Sligo, Carlow, Waterford, South Tipperary, Galway, North Kerry, Wexford and Louth.

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 radioactive 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), a part of the World Health Organisation, 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.