High levels of radon linked to lung cancer

Up to 86% of the radiation that Irish people are subjected to comes from natural sources such as radon gas emitted from the earth.

Radon is the principal source of radiation in the Irish population, contributing over 55% to the average radiation dose.

Less than 1% of radiation exposure comes from high-profile artificial sources such nuclear plants like Sellafield or Chernobyl or from the workplace, a new study shows.

And manmade sources of radiation make up 14% of the average person’s exposure to the known carcinogenic, with the vast majority of this type of radiation coming from its use in medicine for x-rays etc.

The report by the Radiological Protection Institute of Ireland (RPII) assessed all sources of radiation in the Irish environment and calculated the average annual dose to the population.

RPII chief executive, Dr Ann McGarry, said: “The assessment clearly identifies radon as the primary source of radiation exposure in Ireland. Our radiation dose is high compared to other European countries because of the high levels of radon in this country and some families in Ireland are exposed to extremely high radiation doses in their homes.

“Exposure to radon is also one of the few sources which can be reduced. For these reasons, the RPII has always highlighted radon as a key radiation and health protection issue.”

The radiation dose to individuals from radon can vary substantially, with some people exposed to a fraction of the average radiation dose while others are exposed to hundreds of times the average, say the RPII

Radon is a naturally occurring radioactive gas which can accumulate in buildings to unacceptable levels. It is the second biggest cause of lung cancer after smoking and is linked to up to 250 lung cancer cases per year in Ireland. Most of the radiation dose from radon is received in people’s homes although exposure at work is the largest contribution to occupational radiation exposure.

Other sources such as fallout from nuclear accidents and weapons tests or discharges of nuclear or radioactive waste to the environment remain at very low levels.

“We know from national surveys that people rate exposure to radon as less of a risk than Sellafield or nuclear power stations abroad. The reality is that less than 1% of the average radiation dose is due to exposure to artificial sources such as Sellafield and Chernobyl,” continued Dr McGarry.

Last year, a Kerry home tested for exposure to radon gas found its occupants were receiving the equivalent radiation dose of approximately 18 chest X-rays per day or 6,500 per year.

The Tralee household, which had 26 times the acceptable level of radon, was among the one in seven homes identified with high levels of radon, out of more than 3,000 tested in the past year.

However, the RPII estimates there are 91,000 homes with high levels of radon, of which less than 8,000 have been identified. On this basis, the institute is urging householders to get their homes tested.


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