First study linking radon and lung cancer published in Republic of Ireland

20Feb / 2018

First study linking radon and lung cancer published in Republic of Ireland

In January this year, the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) published ‘High Radon Areas and Lung Cancer Prevalence in Ireland’. This is the first study in the Republic to confirm a strong link between living in areas with high levels of radon gas and an increased risk of a lung cancer.

Commissioned by the Environmental Protection Agency, the ESRI study links extensive data for more than 5,000 people aged over 50 from the Irish Longitudinal Study on Ageing (Tilda) with data on radon exposure. The Tilda figures allowed other risk factors that could influence an individual’s likelihood of a lung cancer diagnosis, such as smoking history, age and gender, to be reliably discounted.

Radon is created by the radioactive decay of uranium that ocurs naturally in all rocks and soils. It’s present in the ground and normally will harmlessly escape to the atmosphere. The problem arises when it is trapped in buildings where it can be breathed in. This wasn’t a problem in older, draughty buildings but is potentially a problem .in modern, air-tight offices and homes.

The real risk is not from radon gas itself but the radioactive daughter products from its decay.  These are solid radioactive elements that can lodge in the lungs where they continue to decay and emit damaging alpha particles, potentially leading to lung cancer.

In the region of 250 lung cancers each year in Ireland are linked to radon exposure, with about one tenth of the population in the State at risk from unsafe levels of the gas. The latest research shows that people living in areas where 10-20 per cent of households were above the national reference level for radon exposure (of 200 Bq/m3) were three times more likely to report a lung cancer diagnosis than those who live in areas with fewer than 1 per cent of households above this threshold.

It is further estimated that the annual mortality from radon exposure in buildings represents 9% of all deaths from lung cancer, and 2% of all cancer deaths, in Europe. In the UK, this equates to approximately 2000 premature deaths every year.

Luckily, testing for radon is relatively simple and if radon is found to be present above threshold or action concentrations, effective measures can be retro-fitted to buildings to reduce levels. In the first instance, occupied areas of buildings can be tested for radon by installing detectors. These are then analysed in a laboratory, the results seasonally adjusted and presented in a simple report.

Read the full publication here

Find out about GGS radon monitoring and consultancy services here.