September 09, 2011
Yet many thousands of families may unknowingly be living with a threat to their health
The Radiological Protection Institute of Ireland (RPII) is again urging the people of South Tipperary to test their homes for radon, a radioactive gas which is linked to up to 200 lung cancer deaths each year in Ireland.
Over 530 homeowners have undertaken the radon test since May this year following an intensive awareness campaign of the dangers of exposure to the radioactive gas. These are in addition to the 1900 homes previously tested by the RPII in the county. However, this is only a small fraction of the estimated 29,000 homes in South Tipperary which need to be tested.
Up to one in five homes in particular areas are predicted to have concentrations of radon above the acceptable level. Of the homes in Clonmel tested by the RPII, 20 per cent have been found to be above the acceptable level and of these approximately 6 per cent had four times the acceptable level.
Radon is the second biggest cause of lung cancer after smoking and South Tipperary has one of the highest incidences in the country of homes with high radon levels.
Mr David Fenton, Senior Scientist at the RPII said: “The families that have tested have taken the necessary first step in addressing this problem. Many thousands of families in South Tipperary are completely unaware that they may be exposed to this colourless, odourless and tasteless radioactive gas. People living in these homes are at increased risk of developing lung cancer.”
Testing for radon and, in the event of a high reading, reducing the levels present are both relatively inexpensive. To test for radon, one radon detector is placed in a bedroom and a second in a living room. 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. A radon test is available from the RPII and other test suppliers and costs about €50. 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 RPII’s website www.rpii.ie or on Freefone 1800 300 600.
“Radon is only a problem if people ignore it in the hope it will somehow go away. It will not go away unless you find out what levels are in your home and reduce them if they are high” concluded Mr Fenton.
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.
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.
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