Householders are being urged to test their homes for the radioactive gas, radon, after a house in Tipperary was found to have levels 45 times above the acceptable limit.
Radon, a naturally occurring radioactive gas present in all rocks and soils, is classified as a class A carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer. When it surfaces in the open air, it is quickly diluted to harmless concentrations. However when it enters an enclosed space such as a house, it can sometimes build up to high concentrations, leading to an 'unacceptable health risk'.
After smoking, long-term exposure to radon gas in the home is the greatest single cause of lung cancer in Ireland. The gas is linked to 200 cancer deaths every year.
According to the Radiological Protection Institute of Ireland (RPII), there are approximately 91,000 homes in Ireland with high levels of radon gas. However only around 4,000 of these have been identified.
The institute voiced its concerns after a house near Ballyporeen in Co Tipperary was found to have a peak reading in one room of 9,000 becquerels per cubic metre. This is 45 times the acceptable level of 200 becquerels per cubic metre.
The householder in this case had tested the home for radon and after being informed of the results, took immediate action to fix the problem. In this case, a radon sump was installed in the house – this prevents high radon concentrations accumulating again. Subsequent measurements have shown the radon concentration to be less than 45 becquerels per cubic metre.
"Householders need to take this matter seriously and measure radon levels in their homes to ensure that they and their families are not at risk. Where there is a need to reduce levels, remediation is relatively cheap compared to other household repairs and resolves the situation immediately. People are receiving radiation doses that would not be tolerated by workers in Sellafield”, commented Dr Tony Colgan of the RPII.
He pointed out that 20% of homes in parts of south Tipperary and north Cork are predicted to have high radon concentrations.
“This includes the area east of Ballyporeen towards Clonmel. We have previously identified high radon levels in North Cork especially around Mallow. The identification of this house in south Tipperary is a further reminder that people in these areas could be living with very dangerous levels of radiation in their homes”, Dr Colgan said.
The RPII has produced a set of maps which show high radon areas, i.e. areas where more than 10% of the houses are predicted to have radon levels above the acceptable level.
The maps show that almost one-third of the country is deemed a high radon area, with the south east and west being ‘of particular concern’.
The RPII advises all householders, particularly those living in high radon areas, to have their homes tested for radon. Testing involves placing two radon detectors in the home – one in a bedroom and one in a living room. The detectors are the size of an air freshener and can be sent and returned by post for analysis.
The RPII and a number of private companies also provide a radon measurement service to the public for as little as €56.