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The beautiful Moville area, Donegal, is a high risk one, radon wise
The beautiful Moville area, Donegal, is a high risk one, radon wise

Radon Ireland: a silent, dangerous enemy

On ItalishMagazine, we have tons of posts about the spectacular beauty of Ireland. Sometimes a silent and dangerous enemy lurks in that beauty: radon.

We asked a few questions about this silent killer to Stephanie Long, Irish scientist, Manager of Radon & Citizen Science at EPA – Environmental Protection Agency – Ireland.

What is radon? Why it is a danger?

Radon is a radioactive gas with no taste, colour or smell.

It is formed in the ground by the radioactive decay of uranium, present in all rocks and soils. You cannot see it, smell it or taste it.

It can only be measured with special detectors. Outside radon is diluted to very low levels. Radon can enter a home from the ground through small cracks in floors and through gaps around pipes or cables. Homes in some parts of the country are more likely to have a radon problem. These parts of the country are called High Radon Areas. If you live in Ireland, you can check the EPA’s interactive map to see whether your home is in a High Radon Area.

Ireland radon map – source: EPA

In Ireland, approximately 300 cases of lung cancer each year are linked to exposure to radon. This is because radon creates tiny radioactive particles that are breathed in and can lodge in the lungs – when they are there, they give a radiation dose to the lung.

Cancer risk from radon – source: EPA

Over many years this radiation damage can increase the risk of developing lung cancer. There is a synergistic effect between radon and tobacco smoke – this means that smokers are at a much greater risk of developing radon-related lung cancer than non-smokers.

What are the worst, radon-wise, areas in Ireland?

You can see on our map that every county in Ireland has some area that is badly affected by radon, but it is mostly the west and the southeast of the country.

This is due to the geology of these areas. There is more radon given off by rock types such as granite and shale. Also, limestone rock has lots of cracks and openings that allow radon gas to travel easily through the ground.

What is your actual job about, and how/on what you work together?

The job is very varied! We provide information to the public, employers and schools through our website and call centre, and we run awareness campaigns from time to time.

We research how to protect new homes from radon better, how we can improve our communications with the public and how we can make it easier for people to reduce the radon levels in their homes.

We work with lots of other government agencies to improve the radon map, to ensure that radon is included in building regulations and that radon levels in workplaces are low. 

We work together with a group called HERCA, European Radiation Protection Authorities. This group works to develop a common approach to how we are managing radon across Europe. It is a very positive collaboration, where we can share our learnings and challenges with each other.

What should you do if you think that your house can be affected by radon?

Our mantra is: test your home! I cannot repeat this too many times!

It is an easy and fairly inexpensive thing to do. You can buy a radon kit for about €50 online, and it is posted to your home. You just put two small detectors in your home for three months and post them back to the laboratory. You will usually have your results within two weeks. If the results are high, it is really easy to reduce radon levels.

Radons sump – source: EPA

Is solving the problem easy, and cheap?

This video explains how you can reduce radon in your home. It costs about €1,000 to install an active radon sump. This seems like a lot of money, but it is money well spent to protect your family’s health.

Radon as been around for, well: quite a long time… What is the history of random awareness?

It was only in the late 1980s that it was first measured in Ireland and the Irish radon map was published first in 2002. The story of how is known to be a problem in homes is an interesting one. It has been known since the middle ages that miners in central Europe suffered from what was called ‘lung disease’, but it was the 1920s before this ‘lung disease’ was identified as lung cancer in miners in Austria and Czech Republic. In the 1950s the link between lung cancer and radon established and as recently as 1988 when the World Health Organisation classified radon as a human carcinogen.

Until the 1980s radon was believed to affect only those working underground such as minors, but it was discovered that it could be a problem in homes by a man called Stanley Watras in 1984 – you can read the story here.

About QRob

Massimiliano "Q-ROB" Roveri writes on and about Internet since 1997. A philosopher lent to the IT world blogs, shares (and teaches how to blog and share) between Ireland and Italy.

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