HOMEOWNERS could be forced to pay up to €1,000 to remove cancer-causing radon gas prior to selling their property.
Concerns about the number of houses identified as being at risk has prompted the Radiological Protection Institute of Ireland (RPII) to recommend that new regulations oblige homeowners to identify -- and tackle -- the problem prior to homes being sold.
The measures will be considered by cabinet early in the new year and come amid concerns that the number of properties tested has fallen sharply.
More than 20,000 radon detectors were sold in 2010, which dropped to about 6,000 last year. The RPII said the fall is believed to be a "reflection of the current economic difficulties facing many householders".
Radon is a naturally-occurring radioactive gas formed in the ground as uranium decays. It is linked with up to 200 lung cancer deaths a year.
The safe limit is 200 becquerels per cubic metre (Bq/m3), and the RPII believes as many as 7pc of all homes -- or 110,000 -- are in high-risk areas and may have levels above this.
Despite the risk, fewer than 7,700 of these have been tested.
RPII chief executive Dr Ann McGarry said the National Radon Control Strategy, which will be published after being considered by Cabinet, would include measures to tackle the problem in both new and existing houses.
Houses built since 1998 have to have a sump installed to remove the gas, which can be activated if dangerous levels are found. In high radon areas barriers are installed.
"We're talking about the development of a national radon control strategy," Dr McGarry said. "The strategy hasn't been published yet, but is due next year.
"It will include recommendations on radon prevention measures, and we'll also look at how those (1998) regulations can be improved. I don't think there's concern they're not being enforced, it's about whether the barriers are effective and if people are trained.
"In some countries they have a system whereby when the houses are being bought or sold, radon is measured and remediation is put in place before it's bought or sold.
"Part of the challenge with radon is there's already a building stock there. We can address the new houses, but it's looking at different ways to address the older stock."
In England and Wales information on radon testing is required when houses change hands. In some cases, a retention fee is taken from the seller to cover the cost of works.
The Department of the Environment said a report on the strategy would shortly be presented to Government by Environment Minister Phil Hogan.
Of the 53,870 homes tested to date, 6,828 had levels above the safe limit -- 814 with readings of more than four times. Among the high-risk areas are Carlow, Clare, Cork, Galway, Kerry, Louth, Mayo, Sligo, Tipperary, Waterford and Wexford.
Testing involves buying a kit for about €60, with one detector placed in a bedroom and the second in the main living area for three months. If high levels are found, a sump can be installed in a day to extract the gas, which costs about €850. The running costs of the fan range from €50 to €100.
Some 20,000 social houses in at-risk areas have been remediated, while over 500 state buildings have also been tested.