Increase in homes 'at risk' from radon gas

A five-fold increase in the number of homes officially designated at risk from a lethal gas that seeps out of the ground causing more than 1,000 deaths a year, was announced yesterday.

Homeowners are being urged to take extra precautions to protect themselves from radon, the naturally occurring radioactive gas produced by the decay of uranium 238 which is present throughout the Earth’s crust. Radon has been called the “worst environmental pollutant”.

The Health Protection Agency announced new standards yesterday to reduce exposure to radon, which causes an estimated 1,100 deaths from lung cancer annually.The new “target level” of exposure of 100 becquerels per cubic metre is half the existing “action level” of 200 becquerels.

Research over the last 20 years has shown that there is no safe level of radon. It exposes children in affected homes to higher levels of radiation than workers at the Sellafield nuclear re-processing plant. Scientists point out that if it were blue it would be the subject of widespread alarm but because it is odourless and colourless it is ignored.

Although the risks are higher in the worst affected homes, about 90 per cent of deaths from radon occur in homes below 200 becquerels because there are many more of them. About 100,000 UK homes have radon levels over 200 becquerels, and between 500,000 and 600,000 have levels over 100 becquerels.

The HPA says the new targets should also apply to all schools and to other buildings such as residential homes occupied by the public for more than 2,000 hours a year.

Neil Mccoll of the HPA’s Centre for Radiation, Chemicals and Environmental Hazards, said: “The scientific evidence has shown that the lung cancer risk is proportional to the long term exposure to radon. There is no safe or unsafe level. We want to keep our focus on homes above 200 becquerels - there are some above 1,000 and a handful above 10,000 - but we also want to make sure that people who are reducing the level should not think that below 200 they are safe. The risk is smaller but it is not zero - particularly if they are smokers or ex-smokers.”

When radon is inhaled it attaches itself to cells lining the lungs, and is especially harmful to smokers, whose cells are already partly damaged. Concentrations outdoors are low, but the gas can build up indoors, significantly increasing risks of cancer to the occupants. At 200 becquerels it is estimated to increase the risk of lung cancer by a third.

In the UK, radon levels are highest in houses on Dartmoor in Devon and in Cornwall, which are built on granite, in parts of Wales, the East Midlands and the Pennines. The gas seeps into buildings through cracks and holes in the foundations. In Devon and Cornwall it is difficult to sell a house without a certificate showing the radon level.

The current UK policy is to identify areas where radon levels are high and seal the foundations of new homes with gas-resistant membranes, which cost about £100. In existing buildings, owners are advised that a “radon sump” can be created by digging below the foundations and using a fan and pipe to blow the gas to the outside, but they have to meet the costs which average £1,000.

The policy was critcised by scientists from the University of Oxford last year in the British Medical Journal who said it was “costly” yet had a “minimal impact on radon-related deaths” because these mostly occurred in homes below the 200 becquerel limit.

The HPA has responded with its new two-level target, extending the number of homes falling within its remit. But the Oxford researchers proposed a more radical nationwide policy policy to install sealed membranes in all new homes, regardless of where they were built. At a cost of around £100 per house the measure would save around 1,000 lives over the first 20 years, they said.

Voices
A Russian hunter at the Medved bear-hunting lodge in Siberia
Save the tigerWildlife charities turn to those who kill animals to help save them
News
Davis says: 'My career has been about filling a niche - there were fewer short actors and fewer roles – but now I'm being offered all kinds of things'
PeopleWarwick Davis on Ricky Gervais, Harry Potter and his perfect role
News
i100
Sport
Frank Lampard will pass Billy Wright and equal Bobby Charton’s caps tally of 106 caps against
sportFormer Chelsea midfielder in Etihad stopgap before New York contract
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebookA wonderful selection of salads, starters and mains featuring venison, grouse and other game
Life and Style
ebookAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Arts and Entertainment
The first film introduced Daniel Radcliffe to our screens, pictured here as he prepares to board the train to Hogwarts for the first time.
booksHow reading Harry Potter helps children grow up to be gay-friendly
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Aladdin is performed at the Tony Awards in New York in June
theatreBrit producer Lythgoe makes kids' musical comedy a Los Angeles hit
Sport
Usain Bolt of Jamaica smiles and shakes hands with a competitor after Jamaica won their first heat in the men's 4x100m relay
sport
News
Chancellor George Osborne, along with the Prime Minister, have been 'complacently claiming the economy is now fixed', according to shadow Chancellor Ed Balls
i100... which is awkward, because he is their boss, after all
Life and Style
A small bag of the drug Ecstasy
Health
Life and Style
Floral-print swim shorts, £26, by Topman, topman.com; sunglasses, £215, by Paul Smith, mpaulsmith.co.uk
FashionBag yourself the perfect pair
News
news
News
Netherlands' goalkeeper Tim Krul fails to make a save from Costa Rica's midfielder Celso Borges during a penalty shoot-out in the quarter-final between Netherlands and Costa Rica during the 2014 FIFA World Cup
newsGoalkeepers suffer from 'gambler’s fallacy' during shoot-outs
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'
filmReview: A week late, Secret Cinema arrives as interactive screening goes Back to the Future
Extras
indybest
News
i100
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    (Senior) IT Support Engineer - 1st-3rd Line Support

    £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful IT service provider that has bee...

    Wind Farm Civil Design Engineer

    £55000 - £65000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitmen...

    Principal Marine Mechanical Engineer

    £60000 - £70000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitmen...

    Principle Geotechnical Engineer

    £55000 - £65000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitmen...

    Day In a Page

    Save the Tiger: Meet the hunters tasked with protecting Russia's rare Amur tiger

    Hunters protect Russia's rare Amur tiger

    In an unusual move, wildlife charities have enlisted those who kill animals to help save them. Oliver Poole travels to Siberia to investigate
    Transfers: How has your club fared in summer sales?

    How has your club fared in summer sales?

    Who have bagged the bargain buys and who have landed the giant turkeys
    Warwick Davis: The British actor on Ricky Gervais, how the Harry Potter set became his office, and why he'd like to play a spy

    'I'm a realist; I know how hard this business is'

    Warwick Davis on Ricky Gervais, Harry Potter and his perfect role
    The best swim shorts for men: Bag yourself the perfect pair and make a splash this summer

    The best swim shorts for men

    Bag yourself the perfect pair and make a splash this summer
    Has Ukip’s Glastonbury branch really been possessed by the devil?

    Has Ukip’s Glastonbury branch really been possessed by the devil?

    Meet the couple blamed for bringing Lucifer into local politics
    Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

    Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

    Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
    Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

    Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

    When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
    5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

    In grandfather's footsteps

    5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
    Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

    Martha Stewart has flying robot

    The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
    Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

    Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

    Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
    A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

    A tale of two presidents

    George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
    Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

    The dining car makes a comeback

    Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
    Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

    Gallery rage

    How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
    Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

    Eye on the prize

    Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
    Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

    Women's rugby

    Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup