Naturally emitted form rocks, Radon is an odourless and colourless radioactive gas that results from the decay of Uranium in rocks and soil. It is the densest noble gas known and can easily seep into buildings from the ground. Radon has the ability to build up to really high concentrations indoors. In the open atmosphere, Radon tends to quickly dilute into harmless concentrations. However, inside a closed environment, such as houses and workplaces, it remains in a gaseous form and is easily inhaled. The noble gas enters buildings through cracks or gaps in floors, pipes or cables and, because buildings are heated to a higher temperature as it gets colder by the season. Radon transfers up from the ground and can only be measures using a special equipment.
Radon – A Health Hazard
When Radon particles are inhaled, being a dense radioactive gas, they release a radiation dose thereby damaging lung tissue and cells. Though, affects or symptoms of Radon might not be visible immediately; continued exposure to increased levels of Radon in an enclosed area substantially increase the chances of lung cancer. Radon is often found to be the major contributor to a person’s background radioactivity dosage. For more perspective on how harmful Radon is, The World Health Organisation classifies Radon as a carcinogen in the same category as asbestos and tobacco smoke.
Radon in Ireland
According to a research done by Trinity College Dublin, almost 10% of the total population is exposed to Radon and up to 460,000 people in Ireland are at a risk to being exposed to indoor Radon gas. This indicates that 1 in 10 of the population is likely to get lung cancer because of exposure to Radon in their own houses or workplace. Approximately 250 deaths from lung cancer are recorded in the country every year. This number is even higher than the number of fatalities caused each year by road accidents, hence, making Radon the greatest health hazard and risk from radiation in the country. Now, certain areas of the country for example, Co. Galway, Mayo and Sligo are more affected by levels of Radon and are known as High Radon Areas. You can visit the map here.
Radon at Work
The lung cancer cases recorded are mostly associated with exposure to Radon at home. Having said that, the workplace is also a contributor. Therefore, it is the employers’ duty to protect workers from this health risk. The Radiological Protection Act 1991 sets a workplace Radon concentration of 400 Becquerels per cubic metre, to be measured over a successive three-month period. Employers must put preventive measures in place if this reference level is exceeded at any point.
Furthermore, according to the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act 2005, employers are required to identify all hazards and assess all risks at the workplace, which could include Radon. The Act puts responsibility on the employer to ensure safety against all risks and hazards and put in place all necessary measures to reduce or eliminate the risk. The Health and Safety Authority urges all employers to adopt a pro-active approach to tackle Radon in the workplace even if the office location does not fall under the High Radon Areas.
Office of Radiation Protection and Monitoring
In August 2014, the Radiological Protection Institute of Ireland merged with the EPA to create a fifth office within the EPA structure called the Office of Radiological Protection (ORP). The primary responsibility of this office is to ensure that the population and the environment of the country are protected at all times from the harmful effects of ionising radiation. ORP is responsible to provide advice to the Government, the Minister for Environment, community and the local government on the matters relating to radiological safety. The office regularly monitors radon levels in the country and has identified the regions where high enclosed radon radiation levels are more probable to be found. ORP is also in charge of providing effective regulations to businesses that use radiation sources and works closely in partnership with other regulatory authorities as well.
Why is Radon Testing Important and Yet Ignored?
It is safe to say that despite a high level of awareness towards Radon and its potential impacts, most people still ignore to have their home tested. An EPA research indicates that 3 out of 4 people in Ireland are aware of Radon gas. However, only 1 in 5 say that they would probably have their home tested. There are many reasons for this and most of them can be identified as psychological barriers as most people believe the health risk arising from Radon is very low. The general misconception is that Radon radiation is natural and hence, not as harmful as man-made radiation and this is far from the truth. Exposure to Radon can develop lung cancer in the years to follow as Radon is carcinogenic.
Another reason why persuading people to test their homes is not easy is due to the mentality of ‘out of sight; out of mind’ as Radon has no colour and cannot be seen by naked eyes. It is also odourless and has no taste. Hence, it’s impossible to detect its presence without a technical device in place. Some people also tend to ignore this issue as it is hard to believe that our homes, which are meant to be are a place of warmth and safety, could be a potential health hazard.
As an average, 77 bq/m3 indoor radon level is considered safe. Levels more than 500 times this value have previously been measured in Ireland. Ireland falls within the category of countries with one of the highest average indoor Radon concentration levels in the world. However, relief can be taken in the fact that Radon testing and monitoring is quite easy and there are simple solutions available that can be implemented to reduce elevated levels.
Radon Testing & Monitoring Made Easy
There is no doubt that the EPA strongly recommends that everyone must have their homes and workplaces tested for Radon. It provides a radon measurement service at a charge of about €56. The test is usually carried out by placing two small testing devices in the building for 3 months. This 3-month measurement period is advised as Radon levels in a house vary considerably on a day to day basis; depending on the ventilation, weather conditions etc. There is an option to either apply and pay online or download an application form and return it to the EPA with your payment. A measure of the radon levels in the building will then be sent out to you along with suggested remediation measures. These can be applied to the building if radiation measured is above the reference levels. The entire process is carried out by post.
There are two ways to tackle indoor radon radiation; either by preventing it from entering the building from the ground underneath in the first place or; removing the radon once it has entered. Radon is a threat only when it’s ignored. With inexpensive and simple solutions now available to reduce excess levels, it does not need to be a hazard if remediation measures are put in place. Don’t forget to get your house or office retested after the work is completed to ensure the radiation levels are kept to the safest level. The EPA also provides a free of cost post-remediation service.