A record number of Irish homes from across the country have been identified with high levels of radon gas according to new figures released today by the Radiological Protection Institute of Ireland (RPII). Among the findings is a home in north Kerry with extraordinarily high concentrations of the cancer-causing radioactive gas which is amongst the highest ever found in Europe.
This news is enough to frighten a horse from a feed of oats but the facts are that nationally, radon is the second biggest cause of lung cancer after smoking and is directly linked to about 200 lung cancer deaths each year. Almost 5,000 people tested their homes for radon during the nine-month period between 1st September 2010 and 1st June 2011 and over 800 of those have recorded a high level. The highest level found was in a home in the Castleisland area of north Kerry and had an average radon concentration of 37,000 becquerels per cubic metre (Bq/m3) or 185 times above the acceptable level of 200 Bq/m3.. It is located only a few kilometres away from the highest ever reading in an Irish house of 49,000 Bq/m3 found in 2003.
Eighteen homes were identified over 2,000 Bq/m3, which is ten times above the acceptable level of 200 Bq/m3. Those homes were located in Sligo (3), Tipperary (2), Galway (2), Cork (2), Wexford (2), Carlow (3), Donegal (1), Kerry (2), and Waterford (1). A further 93 homes had levels between 4 and 10 times the acceptable level. These homes were located in Waterford (18), Clare (14), Mayo (14), Galway (13), Sligo (11), Cork (5), Kilkenny (5), Wicklow (4), Kerry (3), Carlow (2), Dublin (1), Roscommon (1), Tipperary (1) and Wexford (1). More than 700 homes had levels up to 4 times the acceptable level and were found throughout the country.
Commenting on the latest findings, chief executive of the RPII Dr Ann McGarry said: “These figures show that Ireland has a significant radon problem. Based on the National Radon Survey, we predict that there are thousands more homes across the country with high levels of radon gas. To date, only a very small proportion of these homes have been identified. Exposure to high radon levels causes lung cancer and many people are unknowingly living with very high levels in their homes. The only way people will know if it is in their homes is by testing.”
Measuring for radon and, in the event of a high reading, reducing the levels present 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 can be 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.
If a moderate radon level is found, improving indoor ventilation may reduce the level by up to half. The cost of doing this is low. For higher levels, a fan assisted sump can be installed which can reduce radon levels by over 90%. The sump can be installed in a day with little disruption to the home. The average cost of this work is €1,100 with annual running costs of approximately €90.
An interactive map is available on the RPII’s 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.
Radon-222 is the decay product of radium-226. Radon-222 and its parent, radium-226, are part of the long decay chain for uranium-238. Since uranium is essentially ubiquitous (being or seeming to be everywhere at the same time) in the earth's crust, radium-226 and radon-222 are present in almost all rock and all soil and water.
The amount of radon in the soil depends on soil chemistry, which varies from one house to the next. Radon levels in the soil range from a few hundred to several thousands of pCi/L (picocuries per liter) in air. The amount of radon that escapes from the soil to enter the house depends on the weather, soil porosity, soil moisture, and the suction within the house.
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