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460,000 people possibly at risk from unsafe exposure in Ireland

Roughly 10 per cent of Ireland’s population (approximately 460,000 people) is exposed to radon levels that exceed the referenced safe level according to a new ‘risk map’ produced from indoor radon concentration measurements and relevant geological information. The principal source of the radiation exposure is radon, making up 56 per cent of the overall dose received in Ireland. Exposure can increase the risk of developing lung cancer, causing about 250 annual deaths from lung cancer in Ireland. This is a higher number of fatalities than those associated with road traffic accidents.

The research, led by geologists from Trinity College Dublin, found that a more detailed picture of the radon risk facing Ireland’s public could be established by including geological data, such as bedrock and glacial geology, subsoil permeability and sub-surface permeability in relation to groundwater with existing indoor radon concentration measurements. The new radon risk map makes it easier to identify regional or local variations in radon risk; the south-east and west of Ireland feature as regionally prominent high radon areas, but the map indicates that homes in any county could be at risk.

Before it can be considered as a viable approach and defined in legislation, the radon risk map has to be validated using new, annually available, indoor radon data. Assistant Professor in Isotopes and the Environment from the School of Natural Sciences at Trinity College Dublin, Quentin Crowley, said: “EU member states need to translate European radiation protection legislation into national law, and this requires an accurate definition of radon-prone areas. Our research provides one example of how national-scale radon risk maps can be produced, which is especially relevant to countries developing their national radon programmes.”

The research has just been published in the journal Science of the Total Environment and can be viewed at: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0048969717311713.