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What is Radon Gas?

Radon is a naturally occurring radioactive gas. It originates from the decay of uranium, which is present in small quantities in all rocks and soils. It is colourless, odourless and tasteless and can only be measured using special equipment. Because it is a gas, radon can move freely through the soil enabling it to enter the atmosphere. When radon surfaces in the open air, it is quickly diluted to harmless concentrations, but when it enters an enclosed space, such as a house, it can sometimes accumulate to unacceptably high concentrations.

Radon can enter a building from the ground through small cracks in floors and through gaps around pipes or cables. Radon tends to be sucked from the ground into a building because the indoor air pressure is usually slightly lower than outdoors. This pressure difference occurs because warm indoor air is less dense than outdoor air.

Radon decays to form tiny radioactive particles, some of which remain suspended in the air. When inhaled into the lungs these particles are deposited in the airways and attach themselves to lung tissue. They may damage cells in the lung and this damage may lead to lung cancer in later life. Radon is classified as a Group 1 carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer, a part of the World Health Organisation. This means that there is direct evidence from human studies to support the link between exposure to radon and the induction of lung cancer.

In 1990, the Government adopted a long-term averaged radon gas concentration of 200 bq/m3 (beqverels per cubic metre of air), as the national reference level for adon in homes, and 400 bq/m3 in workplaces.

In some areas, up to 1 in 5 homes have radon levels in excess of 200 bq/m3 (see radon map). Exposure over your lifetime to a radon concentration of 200 bq/m3 represents a lifetime risk of contracting lung cancer of 1 in 50; 2%.

The EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) recommends that if radon concentration is above the national reference level of 200 bq/m3, you should consider taking remedial action to reduce it.