HUNDREDS of families across North Cork are living daily with excessive levels of Radon gas, the so called ‘silent killer’, exposure to which has been linked to up to 350 cases of lung cancer in Ireland annually.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has urged householders and employers to test for Radon, with a new interactive map revealing a sharp increase in the estimated number of high-risk buildings across the country.
EPA figures have predicted that as many as 170,000 homes across the country could at risk form excessive levels of the carcinogenic gas – an increase of 45,000 homes from the previous estimate two-decades ago.
A gas formed naturally underground from the radioactive decay of uranium which is present in all rocks and soils, radon has no smell, taste of colour, which has led to it being known as the ‘silent killer’.
Outdoors, it dilutes to harmless levels. However, in an enclosed space it can accumulate to potentially lethal levels if people are exposed to it over long periods and is the second biggest cause of lung-cancer cases in Ireland behind smoking.
Ireland has relatively high indoor radon levels, with an average indoor level of 77 becquerels per cubic metre Bq/m3, compared to the worldwide average of 39 Bq/m3. The reference or acceptable level of radon in homes is 200 Bq/m3 and in workplaces 300 Bq/m3.
The new colour coded interactive map at www.epa.ie highlights hotspots across the country, with vast swathes of Cork – and in particular North and Mid-Cork, deemed to be most at risk from excessive Radon exposure.
According to the map, which allows people to enter their postcode or address to determine how much at risk their homes are, as many as one in five buildings in areas including Blarney, Ballincollig, Millstreet, Buttevant, Fermoy, Mitchelstown and Mallow are “likely to have high radon levels”.
The North Cork area is long recognised as being a radon hotspot, with one building in Mallow back in 20007 infamously once recording one of the highest levels of the gas ever found in Ireland at more than 60 times higher than the acceptable limit.
At the time the Radiological Protection Institute estimated radon levels found in the building would be equivalent to receiving almost 40 chest x-rays per day or nearly 10,000 per year.
Describing radon as “a serious public health hazard”, EPA director Micháel Lehane said testing was for it was “the only way of protecting you and your family from this cancer-causing gas”.
Testing for radon is a relatively simple and inexpensive process and where high levels of the gas are found fixing the problem is straightforward.
A radon test costs around €50 and can be done by post through specialised contractors, a list of which is available on the EPA website.
Welcoming publication of the new maps Yvonne Mullooly, assistant chief executive of the Health and Safety Authority (HSA) pointed out that employers in high risk radon areas are obliged to carry our radon checks.
For more information about Radon and how to eliminate its threat from your home of workplace visit www.epa.ie.