Radon & Your Health
Radon is a naturally occurring radioactive gas. It is formed in the ground from the radioactive decay of small amounts of radium which itself is a decayed product of uranium (This is present in small quantities in all rocks and soils).
Radon is a colourless, odourless and tasteless gas and poses the greatest health risk from radiation exposure in Ireland. Radon accounts for 56 % of the total radiation dose received by the most of the Irish population. Other radiation sources include Medical 14%, Cosmic (from outer space) 8.7% and emission from civil Nuclear installations 1%. (see fact sheets prepared by RPII Annual radiation dose in Ireland, Risk, Sources of ionizing radiation)
When Radon gas builds up in your House or Workplace to high concentration levels, it will then decay further to produce tiny radioactive particles.
When these minute particles are inhaled they are deposited in your airways and on your lung tissue. This radiation dose can result in lung cancer.
Your Health Risk
The risk of getting lung cancer from Radon depends on, the level of radon exposure, how long you have been exposed to it and whether you are a smoker/ex-smoker or lifelong non-smoker. It is estimated that in Ireland, for the population as a whole (smoker and non-smoker), a lifetime exposure to radon in the home at the National Reference Level of 200 Bq/m3 carries a risk of about 1 in 50 (2%) of contracting fatal lung cancer. The risk is much lower for non-smokers than for smokers. Of all radon-linked lung cancer deaths in Ireland, approximately 90% will occur in smokers and ex-smokers.
- For a non smoker their risk is less than 0.7% (1 in approximately 150) of developing lung cancer.
- For a smoker, their risk is nearly 16% (1 in 6) almost 25 times higher.
Research has shown that the risk to both smokers and non-smokers rises by approximately 16 per cent for every 100 bequerels per cubic metre (Bq/m3) in the home. The higher the Radon levels the greater the risk of getting lung cancer.
Radon is classified by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (a part of the World Health Organisation (WHO)) as a Group 1 carcinogen as is asbestos and tobacco smoke. In Ireland and Worldwide, Radon gas is the next biggest cause of lung cancer after smoking. In the region of 200 deaths per year are linked to Radon gas in Ireland (13% of all lung cancer deaths). Smokers/ex-smokers run a much higher risk of developing radon-related lung cancer than those who never smoked because when the two carcinogens radon and tobacco smoke are combined, the risk is magnified.Groups at Risk
Two groups of people who are more at risk and should take action to reduce their exposure to Radon levels are:
- Those living and working in buildings with radon levels above the National Reference level of 200(Bq/m3) for the Home and 400(Bq/m3) for the Workplace.
- Those who smoke or smoked.
The National Reference Level
The National Reference level of 200(Bq/m3) for Home and 400(Bq/m3) for the Workplace set in 1990 by the Government does not represent a rigid boundary between safe and unsafe radon concentrations but rather a level at which you should consider remedial action known as Radon Mitigation. The RPII advises that, if the radon levels in your home are above the National Reference Level you should consider taking remedial action to reduce it.
Lifetime exposure to Radon at the National Reference Level of 200(Bq/m3) represents a level of risk similar to several other everyday risks such as fatal accidents on the road or death due to accidental falls.
Your Children may be at an increased risk from high Radon levels because they will be exposed to Radon early in life if the Radon concentrations in you Home are high.
The only way minimise the health risk from radon gas and find out if the Radon levels are safe in your Home or Workplace is to have a test carried out.
Radon Testing.ie supply special Radon detectors for the measurement of Radon levels in your Home or Workplace.
If the radon level in your home is above 200 Bq/m3, it can be reduced easily (see Radon Reduction Solutions). Radon reduction methods should be undertaken as soon as possible and urgency is recommended for high concentrations.
Your pets may also develop lung cancer if exposed to high levels of Radon for long periods of time.
Reducing the radon concentration and quitting smoking will immediately reduce the risk of lung cancer.