HUNDREDS of families in North Cork are living daily with excessively high levels of radon, a gas that causes 200 lung cancer deaths in Ireland annually, in their homes.
North Cork, and in particular the Mallow area, has been identified as a key radon hotspot by the Radiological Protection Institute of Ireland (RPII), which has urged people not to ignore the risk.
Since the early 1990s the RPII have carried out 5,572 radon measurements across Cork County, 685 or 12% of which have found levels of the gas exceeding levels deemed to be safe.
This is 5% higher than the national average, with some areas of North Cork recording levels of radon in houses of up to 20% above this.
In one instance of a premises tested by the RPII in Mallow in 2008, the level recorded was 45,000 Bq/m3 ( becquerels per cubic metre) - more than 22.5 times higher than the safe level of 200Bq/m3.
A map of radon hotspots on the RPII website (www. rpii. ie) show's levels of the gas in places around the greater Mallow area regularly exceeding 20% of the recommended safe level.
Radon is a naturally occurring radioactive gas that originates from the decay of uranium in certain types of rocks and soils.
It has no smell, colour or taste and, outdoors, dilutes to harmless concentrations.
However, in an enclosed space such as a house it can accumulate to dangerously high levels and inhalation of the gas has been directly linked to instances of lung cancer.
The gas has been identified by the World Health Organisation as a Group 1 carcinogen, placing it in the same groups of carcinogens as asbestos and tobacco smoke. Ireland, as a whole, has among the highest radon levels in homes found across Europe.
Dr Ann McGarry, the CEO of the RPII, said that a lifetime exposure to radon in the home carries a risk of about 1 in 50 of contracting fatal lung cancer. This is approximately twice the risk of death from a road accident.
"One Irish person dies every two days from a radon induced lung cancer. In the vast majority of cases people are unaware of the problem and because of that are unable to protect themselves," said Ms McGarry.
"The starting point is to test your home for radon and where high levels are found, reduce them. Radon only becomes a problem when it is ignored," she added.