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.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
Arts and Entertainment
British musician Mark Ronson arrives for the UK premiere of the film 'Mortdecai'
music
Voices
Winston Churchill, then prime minister, outside No 10 in June 1943
voicesA C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
News
i100
Sport
footballBrighton vs Arsenal match report
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch has spoken about the lack of opportunities for black British actors in the UK
film
News
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

    Austen Lloyd: Private Client Solicitor - Oxford

    Excellent Salary : Austen Lloyd: OXFORD - REGIONAL FIRM - An excellent opportu...

    Austen Lloyd: Clinical Negligence Associate / Partner - Bristol

    Super Package: Austen Lloyd: BRISTOL - SENIOR CLINICAL NEGLIGENCE - An outstan...

    Recruitment Genius: Sales Consultant - Solar Energy - OTE £50,000

    £15000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Fantastic opportunities are ava...

    Recruitment Genius: Compute Engineer

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Compute Engineer is required to join a globa...

    Day In a Page

    Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

    What the six wise men told Tony Blair

    Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
    25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

    25 years of The Independent on Sunday

    The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
    Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

    Smash hit go under the hammer

    It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
    Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

    The geeks who rocked the world

    A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
    Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

    Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

    Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
    America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

    America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

    These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
    A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

    A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

    A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
    Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

    Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

    A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
    Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

    Growing mussels

    Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project
    Diana Krall: The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai

    Diana Krall interview

    The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai
    Pinstriped for action: A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter

    Pinstriped for action

    A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter
    Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: 'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'

    Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: How we met

    'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef serves up his favourite Japanese dishes

    Bill Granger's Japanese recipes

    Stock up on mirin, soy and miso and you have the makings of everyday Japanese cuisine
    Michael Calvin: How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us