Three died near home with record gas levels
A HOUSE found to have one of the highest levels of cancer-causing radon gas in Europe is situated just kilometres from another home where three people died of lung cancer within a few years of each other.
The Radiological Protection Institute of Ireland (RPII) said yesterday it had identified more than 800 homes across the country with high levels of the gas.
After smoking, radon is the second biggest cause of lung cancer and is directly linked to about 200 lung cancer deaths each year.
One home in Castleisland, Co Kerry, had an average concentration of 37,000 becquerels per cubic metre (bq/m3) -- 185 times above the acceptable level of 200 bq/m3.
It is the equivalent of 125 chest x-rays per day.
The house is situated near another home where radon levels of 49,000 bq/m3 were found in July 2003 -- the highest level ever detected in Ireland.
That home was owned by Jerry Kelliher, his wife Eileen and their daughter Emer (24), who all died within a few years of each other from lung cancer.
Their deaths are thought to have been linked to the levels of radon they had been exposed to in the family home.
A naturally occurring radioactive gas, radon comes from the decay of uranium in rocks and soils.
Outdoors, it quickly dilutes to harmless concentrations but when it enters an enclosed space, such as a house or other building, it can accumulate and give rise to a radiation dose which may cause cancer.
New figures show that almost 5,000 people tested their homes for radon between September 2010 and June this year, with more than 800 of those having a high level.
Eighteen homes were identified over 2,000 bq/m3, 10 times above the acceptable level. Those homes were in Sligo (3), Carlow (3), Tipperary (2), Galway (2), Cork (2), Wexford (2), Kerry (2), Donegal (1), and Waterford (1).
More than 700 homes had levels up to 4 times the acceptable level.
RPII chief executive Dr Ann McGarry said that Ireland had a "significant" radon problem, and that only a small proportion of the affected houses had been identified.
"The only way people will know if it is in their homes is by testing," she said.
Testing kits cost €50 and involve placing a radon detector in a bedroom and a second in a living room for a three-month period. The detectors can be sent and returned by post for analysis to the RPII or a number of private companies.
If a moderate radon level is found, improving indoor ventilation may reduce the level by up to half. The cost of doing this is low.
For higher levels, a fan assisted sump can be installed which can reduce radon levels by more than 90pc. The sump can be installed in a day with little disruption to the home. The average cost of this work is €1,100, with annual running costs of approximately €90.