Radon at dangerous levels in quarter of Irish county's homes

A new directory of radon levels across Ireland shows the toxic gas at dangerous levels in buildings across the country, with almost a quarter of homes tested in one county returning readings above the acceptable level.

Radon is a naturally occurring colourless, odourless radioactive gas that is linked to thousands of cases of lung cancer each year.

A recent report suggested the gas is responsible for some 20,000 deaths annually in the USA, though in Ireland that figure is thought to be nearer 200.

This week Radiological Protection Insitute of Ireland (RPII) published its latest data on the gas, which showed that a worrying 24% of homes tested in Co Sligo were above the nationally accepted safe level for radiation, 200 becquerels per cubic metre.

In Waterford, Galway, Carlow, Wicklow, Mayo, Wexford the rate is greater than 15%. Seven other counties returned results where more than 10% are high. There is no county in Ireland without a home with a high radon level.

Ten of the fifteen highest individual measurements have been found in Kerry where the overall rate of homes tested above the acceptable level is 14%.

Radon levels inside buildings are dependent on a number of factors, including ventilation and local geology.

Outdoors, radon quickly dilutes to harmless concentrations but when it enters an enclosed space, such as a house or other building, it can accumulate to unacceptably high concentrations.

Dr Ann McGarry, chief executive of the RPII, said: "Because radon is odourless, colourless and tasteless, many people are unknowingly living with dangerous levels of radiation in their homes.

"Homeowners, especially those in high radon areas, need to take this matter seriously and measure radon levels in their homes to ensure that they and their families are not at risk."

Since establishing its radon measurement programme in the early 1990s, the RPII has measured almost 38,000 homes in Ireland.

Despite this systematic approach, the institute estimates that, to date, it has probably identified just 5% of those homes above the national Reference Level.

Sam Bond



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