250,000 people are living with high levels of radon

Some 250,000 men, women and children are currently living in homes with high levels of cancer causing radon gas which is resulting in 200 lung cancer deaths each year according to the Radiological Protection Institute of Ireland (RPII).

“1 in 14 Irish homes have high radon levels. In the vast majority of these homes the occupants are unaware that they are living with such a serious health risk and because they are unaware of the problem, they can’t protect themselves,” according to Dr Ann McGarry, Chief Executive of the RPII.

“One person every two days dies from a radon induced lung cancer. Over the past decade up to 2000 people in this country have died from this preventable health problem. The starting point is for people to test their home for radon and where high levels are found, to reduce those levels. Radon is only a problem if it is ignored,” Dr McGarry said.

Last week the RPII ran a comprehensive information campaign in Wexford to raise awareness of the gas and to encourage people to test their homes. In the past two years the RPII has undertaken six of these campaigns in Sligo, Carlow, Waterford, Galway, South Tipperary and Kerry – all high radon counties.

Radon has been classified by the International Agency for Research on Cancer, a part of the World Health Organisation, as a Group 1 carcinogen. This places radon in the same group of carcinogens as asbestos and tobacco smoke as a cause of lung cancer. Ireland has some of the highest radon levels in homes found in Europe.

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 national Reference Level 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.

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 RPII’s website (www.rpii.ie) 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 the Radiological Protection Institute of Ireland on Freefone 1800 300 600.