Radon gas image. Photo: Shutterstock
Nov 13 2017 Posted: 11:50 GMT

Recent measurements in homes in the West of Ireland have found radon levels equivalent to receiving in excess of 20 chest x-rays per day

Researchers at the School of Physics in NUI Galway have found that radon gas levels in houses and buildings in certain parts of Ireland are in excess of levels set by the Environmental Protection Agency. The National Radon Control Strategy for Ireland has identified knowledge gaps, including the optimum specifications for passive soil depressurisation systems that take account of Irish building practices. The NUI Galway research project, OptiSDS is investigating several of these knowledge gaps.

The World Health Organisation has categorised radon as a carcinogen, in the same group as asbestos and tobacco smoke. In Ireland, up to 250 cases of lung cancer each year are linked to exposure to radon. There is a synergistic effect between radon and tobacco smoke. This means that smokers are at much greater risk of developing radon related lung cancer than non-smokers. There is no scientific evidence linking radon with any other types of respiratory illnesses or other cancers.

Radon is a naturally occurring radioactive gas. It has no taste, colour or smell. It is formed in the ground by the radioactive decay of uranium which is present in all rocks and soils. You cannot see it, smell it or taste it. It can only be measured with special detectors.

Outside radon is diluted to very low levels. Radon can enter a home from the ground through small cracks in floors and through gaps around pipes or cables. Indoor radon levels can vary across the country from low levels to tens of times in excess of the reference level set by the Environmental Protection Agency. Recent measurements in homes in the West of Ireland have found radon levels equivalent to receiving in excess of 20 chest x-rays per day.

Dr Mark Foley Academic Director of the Masters in Medical Physics at NUI Galway, said: “This Environmental Protection Agency funded OptiSDS project is a good example of collaborations between engineers and scientists in NUI Galway and also with collaborators across Europe to address knowledge gaps in radon research. Through outreach events we are also promoting public awareness of radon risk, radon measurement, radon mitigation and radon preventative techniques.”

Dr Jamie Goggins, Principal Investigator in the Centre for Marine Renewable Energy Ireland (MaREI) at NUI Galway, said: “One of the main aims of the project is to determine the effectiveness of soil depressurisation systems at extracting radon from under buildings. We are doing this through controlled laboratory tests at NUI Galway, in the development of robust numerical simulations and using a specially designed pilot house in a high radon area in Spain, in collaboration with Professor Luis Quindos in the University of Cantabria. It is imperative that we design and construct safe, healthy, comfortable and energy efficient buildings.”

The OptiSDS research project will feature on the RTÉ One show, ‘10 Things to Know About’ series opener today, Monday 13 November at 8.30pm, a week after European Radon Day.

This research project is funded by the Environmental Protection Agency.

For more information about the OptiSDS project, visit: https://www.nuigalway.ie/science/schoolofphysics/research/optisds /

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