The problem of Radon in Ireland

A final consideration when choosing the location of your property is the likelihood of its being affected by radon.

Radon is a naturally occurring radioactive gas formed underground by the radioactive decay of uranium, which is present in small quantities in rocks and soils and is particularly prevalent in Ireland. It’s estimated that more than half of the radiation dose received by the average person in Ireland is due to radon.

For the majority of people, the radiation received from radon isn’t high enough to be a cause for concern. Radon surfacing in the open air is quickly diluted to harmless concentrations. However, when it enters an enclosed space, such as a house, it can sometimes build up to dangerous concentrations.

The acceptable limit for radon concentration (known as the ‘reference level’) is 200 becquerels per m3 of air (200Bq/m3). It has been shown that prolonged exposure to concentrations of radon above this level increases the chance of contracting lung cancer; in a minority of homes and other buildings in Ireland with very high radon levels, there’s a significant health risk for occupants.

To put this risk into perspective: whereas the average person in Ireland has a 3 per cent risk of contracting fatal lung cancer, someone living in a building which is above the reference level may have a 4 or 5 per cent risk of the same fate.

Recognising the possible danger of radon, the government has undertaken a survey of the whole country which identifies the areas of greatest risk. There are high risk areas in most parts of the country, but Counties Carlow and Sligo appear to have more such areas than other parts of the country. A copy of the survey and a leaflet entitled Radon Radiation in Homes can be obtained free of charge from the Radiological Protection Institute of Ireland (Tel. 01-269 7766; www.rpii.ie ). Note also that building regulations introduced in December 1997 require all new houses to have a radon ‘sump’ and those in high risk areas a radon ‘barrier’.

There are three important points to bear in mind when considering the possible effects of radon gas on your choice of property:

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