Radon: the hazard and managing the risk

12Apr / 2018

Radon: the hazard and managing the risk

Radon gas is a natural hazard that we can’t see, feel or smell.  Consequently, most people are unaware of it and the risks often don’t get the attention they deserve.

radon monitoring deviceThis month’s edition of Tomorrow’s Facilities Management features an insightful piece on Radon. Written by Senior Geo-Environmental Consultant Andrew Brunton, the feature goes into detail about the risks associated with this odourless invisible gas, and how to ensure the hazards it presents are dealt with timely and effectively.

Radon is created by the radioactive decay of uranium that occurs naturally in all rocks and soils.  It’s present in the ground and normally it will harmlessly escape to the atmosphere.  The problem arises when it is trapped in buildings where it can be breathed in.  This may not have been 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.  It is 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.

radon map UKAs radon is linked to the underlying geology, indicative maps of the UK are freely available that identify where high levels are more likely[1].  High and lower risk areas are defined as an estimated percentage of homes above a radon action level.  However, it’s often the building design and construction details that most affect whether radon can enter a structure, with the greatest risk associated with buildings that have underground rooms, such as basements or cellars – as in addition to the floor all four walls are usually in contact with the surrounding soils.

In private homes, the responsibility for ensuring a property is safe rests with the home owner.  Although for new development in higher risk areas, local authorities have a role in requiring developers to include appropriate radon protection in their buildings.

Unfortunately, current evidence suggests that there are no medical symptoms from short term exposure to radon, and that it would take years of exposure at relatively high levels before any symptoms occur.  The only way to know if you are at risk from radon exposure is to measure it.

Read the full feature on pages 54 – 55 of April’s edition of Tomorrow’s Facilities Management.

Find out more about Radon on the Radon Council Website.

If you need help identifying radon risk in your buildings, click here for more details on GGS’ continuous radon monitoring services.