Phil Hogan, T.D., Minister for Environment, Community and Local Government, (24 November, 2011) announced the establishment of a new expert group to tackle the health risks posed by radon gas. Speaking at the National Radon Forum in Dublin, Minister Hogan stressed the importance of raising awareness of the risks and of bringing together all of the different public authorities that need to play a part in finding a solution to this ongoing problem.
Minister Hogan said “Exposure to radon gas contributes to approximately 200 lung cancer deaths in Ireland each year. Most exposure occurs in the home. One of the major challenges is the lack of awareness about the risks people face from radon gas and what they can do to reduce them.”
The establishment of the National Radon Strategy Group means that, for the first time, all of the relevant public bodies have been brought together with a clear mandate from Government to come up with solutions to the radon problem. The group has been given two years to complete this task.
Today’s event, the National Radon Forum, organised by the Radiological Protection Institute of Ireland (RPII), is an annual event at which experts and other interested parties can contribute ideas to address this significant and complex public health issue. Their contributions will inform the new strategy group in its search for a lasting solution to the radon problem.
Minister Hogan said: “In seeking the best solutions to the radon problem, it is important that the new group listens to its stakeholders, whose views can make an important contribution to its work. Today’s National Radon Forum is part of that process.”
Radon is a naturally occurring radioactive gas. It is colourless, odourless and tasteless and can only be measured using specialised equipment. It is formed in the ground by the radioactive decay of uranium, which is present in variable quantities in all rocks and soils. Being a gas, radon has the ability to move through the soil and enter buildings through small cracks, holes or imperfections that may exist in the floor area.
Once in a building radon quickly decays to produce radioactive particles which are suspended in the air. When inhaled these particles can be deposited in the airways and attach themselves to lung tissue. This gives rise to a radiation dose, which may cause lung cancer.
The national Reference Level for radon in homes is 200 becquerels per cubic metre (Bq/m3). The becquerel is the unit of radioactivity.
The RPII estimate that over 91,000 homes in the country have radon concentrations above the national Reference Level.
A High Radon Area, as identified by the RPII, is an area where more than 10% of the homes are predicted to have annual average radon concentrations above the national Reference Level. Approximately 33% of the country is classified as a High Radon Area. These areas are most prevalent in the South-East and the West.
The RPII advises all householders, particularly those living in High Radon Areas, to have their homes tested for radon. Testing for radon involves the placing of one radon detector in a bedroom and a second in a living room for a three-month period. The detectors are the size of an air freshener and can be sent and returned by post for analysis.
Long-term exposure to radon increases the risk of lung cancer. Radon can be linked to up to 200 lung cancer cases in Ireland every year. For people who smoke, or who have smoked, the risk from radon can be up to 25 times greater than for people who never smoked.