Radon is a naturally occurring radioactive gas that results from the decay of uranium in rocks and soils. The gas is colourless, odourless and tasteless and can only be measured using special equipment.
When radon surfaces in the open air, it is quickly diluted to harmless concentrations, but when it enters an enclosed space, such as a house or other building, it can sometimes build up to unacceptably high concentrations. Radon from the ground enters buildings chiefly through cracks in floors or gaps around pipes or cables.
Radon decays to form tiny radioactive particles, some of which stay suspended in the air. When these particles are inhaled into the lungs, they give a radiation dose that may damage cells in the lung.
Radon has been shown to be a cause of cancer, specifically lung cancer; prolonged exposure to elevated levels of radon gas in an enclosed area can be a contributory factor in increasing the risk of lung cancer, particularly where other factors such as cigarette smoking are involved.
The Radiological Protection Institute of Ireland (RPII) merged with the Environmental Protection Agency on 1 August 2014 to become a fifth office in the EPA structure called the Office of Radiological Protection. This Office has regulatory, monitoring and advisory responsibilities in matters relating to ionising radiation. It assesses radon levels and has identified those areas where high indoor radon levels are more likely to be found.
The EPA publishes an interactive radon map. You can enter an address to see if it is in a 'High Radon Area'. You can also view a table that summarises the results of the radon survey for each county since the early 1990s.
The EPA's Radon in Homes booklet gives information about radon and the harm it can do, and describes how you can reduce your exposure to radon levels in the home. You can also view frequently asked questions about radon or use the queries form for other questions. There is also a series of radon factsheets on epa.ie and a video on testing your home for radon.
The EPA recommends that all householders have their homes tested for radon. It provides a radon measurement service, as do several private companies. Rates for different testers may vary – the EPA charges about €56.
The testing is usually carried out by placing two small testing devices (detectors) in the house for 3 months. At the end of this period, the detectors are sent back to the testing laboratory for processing. This procedure is carried out entirely by post. A 3-month measurement period is recommended because radon levels in a house can vary considerably from day to day as a result of changes in weather conditions, ventilation, building usage, etc.
The EPA's radon measurement service is confidential and it will not release the result of any measurement to anyone other than the person who originally requested the measurement.
The level of radon is measured in becquerels per cubic metre – expressed as Bq/m3 – and the national ‘reference level’ is 200 Bq/m3.
The EPA recommends that you should consider taking action to reduce the level of radon in your home if the measurement is above this national reference level. Steps that are taken to reduce the radon level are generally known as ‘radon remediation’.
There are two main methods of radon remediation – either by preventing radon entering your home from the ground underneath or by removing the radon after it has entered your home. No matter which method you choose, it is important to have your home re-tested after the work has been completed, to ensure that it has been successful in reducing the level in your home to below 200 Bq/m3. The EPA provides a free post-remediation service to homeowners.
Radon remediation works may qualify for the Home Renovation Incentive scheme.
You either apply and pay online for a radon measurement for your home, or you can download an application form for a radon measurement in the home and return it to the EPA with your payment.
If you have a question relating to this topic you can contact the Citizens Information Phone Service on 0761 07 4000 (Monday to Friday, 9am to 8pm) or you can visit your local Citizens Information Centre.