Experts are calling for a change in regulations to protect people in homes from the carcinogenic radon

Hundreds of thousands of households have not activated devices to protect themselves from the cancer-causing radon gas.

It turns out that radiation experts and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) asked the Department of Housing to make activation mandatory two years ago.

This was followed by studies and a live trial showing that adding a €125 attachment to make the device work would massively reduce the risk of radon entering homes.

The researchers said the move had “the potential to result in a significant reduction in the number of radon-related lung cancer cases in Ireland”.

The Department of Housing says it has received the test results and is looking into the issue, but further investigation is needed.

“The department continues to work with the EPA and industry stakeholders as part of this review,” a spokesman said.

The Irish Cancer Society said it would welcome a change in building codes to provide further protection.

“The Irish Cancer Society wants to reduce people’s exposure to radon, as radon is a serious carcinogenic gas and exposure to it can cause lung cancer,” it said.

Radon is linked to around 350 lung cancer deaths in Ireland each year and is the leading cause of lung cancer in non-smokers.

The naturally occurring radioactive gas is associated with underlying soil conditions in many parts of the country, but can become a health hazard in homes at high levels.

Since 1998, building codes have required new construction to have an underfloor membrane to prevent gas from rising into the property, as well as a standby sump.

The sump is a pipe that runs from the foundations to the footpath, sealed with a lid where it meets the surface.

Homeowners are told to test their home for radon and, if necessary, activate the sump by removing the lid and installing a pipe at roof level with a hood over it, an additional cost of €125 in 2021.

However, the rate of household testing is low. In 2019, when the EPA shut down its centralized testing service, just over 60,000 homes have been tested over the past decade.

Test kits cost €50 to €60 and take three or four months to get a result. The kits are now being offered by private companies, but there are no reliable figures on how many households are using them.

The EPA occasionally conducts awareness campaigns encouraging people to consult their online radon maps to determine if they are in an area with high radon concentrations and, if so, to have their homes tested.

However, building codes warn: “Houses with high radon gas concentrations are not limited to these areas and can occur in individual dwellings in any part of the country.”

A trial was carried out in 2020 by the EPA, University College Dublin and a private testing company on a new housing development in Wexford.

It found that just activating the sump by adding an external vertical pipe reduced radon levels by 65 percent.

Adding a hood that helps draw in the gas more effectively reduces the level by 75 percent. It also reduced the number of times levels exceeded the generally accepted safety limit of 200 becquerels per square meter.

The research team wrote that activating the sump in this way was a “highly effective, easy to install, low cost and maintenance free method of reducing radon exposure in new Irish homes with the potential to significantly reduce the number of radon-related lung cancer cases in Ireland”.

They compared the effort of 125 euros with the costs of alternative approaches.

“Testing a dwelling typically costs €50, while sanitizing a dwelling by installing an active sump typically costs €1,000,” they said.

“By contrast, a review prepared for the Geological Survey of Ireland estimated that the economic cost of radon-related lung cancer was just under €350 million in 2016.”

The EPA said it has informed the Housing Department of its research and recommendations and is continuing to work with officials.

Around 600,000 houses have been built in Ireland since 1998. Most older homes are less well protected against radon. Experts are calling for a change in regulations to protect people in homes from the carcinogenic radon

Fry Electronics Team

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