Up to 200 people a year die from lung cancer caused by high levels of radon gas in Ireland – way above the global average, health organisations revealed today.
Between 6% and 15% of annual lung cancer deaths across the world are caused by exposure to the gas, which equates to up to 170,000 deaths, according to a report by the World Health Organisation (WHO).
In Ireland, up to 13% of lung cancer deaths are caused by exposure to radon, the Radiological Protection Institute of Ireland (RPII) said today.
“This is clearly at the upper end of the scale and reflects the high radon levels found in Irish homes,” said Dr Hajo Zeeb, coordinator of the WHO’s International Radon Project.
Radon is a naturally occurring, colourless and odourless radioactive gas. It is formed in the ground by the radioactive decay of uranium, which is present in variable quantities in all rocks and soils.
It can move through the soil and enter buildings through small cracks, holes or imperfections that may exist in the floor area.
The RPII has measured radon in more than 4,000 houses in Co Galway to date and 20% of these have been found to have levels that exceed the acceptable level of 200 Bq/m3 (radioactive material measurement unit is the ‘becquerel’).
One home in Galway was found to have a level of 3,434 Bq/m3, equivalent to receiving nearly twelve chest X-Rays per day – more than 4,000 a year.
Dr Zeeb was attending the fifth National Radon Forum in Galway.
The Forum is a public meeting that provides an opportunity for Government agencies, health professionals, architects, engineers, radon measurement laboratories and the radon remediation industry to discuss issues on radon.
A major theme of this year’s Forum is to compare experience in addressing the radon risk globally and at a local level in Ireland to determine the most effective strategies.
In his keynote address, Dr Zeeb said: “Exposure to radon in homes and workplaces is one of the main radiation risks. The aim of WHO’s International Radon Project is to reduce the number of deaths due to indoor radon.
“Prevention or remediation is relatively easy, however, according to reports from WHO member states, people and politicians are not taking enough notice of this problem.
“WHO can bring together many countries to strengthen international approaches to reduce radon health effects and help raise awareness among the public.”
Dr Ann McGarry, chief executive of the RPII said: “Ireland has one of the highest average radon levels in Europe and we estimate that up to 200 Irish people each year die from lung cancer as a result of exposure to radon gas.
“For their own safety, we again urge the public to measure the levels of radon in their homes. The speakers from the WHO and the UK’s Health Protection Agency demonstrate that the radon risk is not just an Irish problem and that we all need to take this risk seriously.
“Our experience also is that local authorities can play a key role in promoting local awareness of radon. The RPII is working nationally to raise public awareness and we are very appreciative of the assistance of local authorities, such as South Tipperary County Council, who have taken effective steps to promote awareness of radon in their area.”
As part of its awareness campaign, the RPII will have an information stand in the Galway Shopping Centre on the Headford Road next week.
:: Detailed information on radon and its risks, including information on how to get your home or workplace tested for radon, is available on the RPII’s website www.rpii.ie/radon or can be obtained on freefone 1800 300 600 or by texting the word RADON followed by your name and address to 53377.