Radon is a naturally occurring radioactive gas. It has no taste, smell or colour and it requires special devices to detect it.
Radon comes from the radioactive decay of naturally occurring uranium, which is found in small quantities in all soils and rocks. Radon levels vary between different parts of the country and even between neighbouring buildings.
Radon from the soil and rocks mixes with air and rises to the surface where it is quickly diluted in the atmosphere. However radon that enters enclosed spaces, such as buildings, can in certain circumstances reach relatively high concentrations.
Derbyshire Dales has been designated a radon affected area. This means that the buildings in the area have a greater than 1 per cent chance of having a level of radon which is higher than the action level set by government.
Residential premises - 200 becquerels per cubic metre
Commercial premises - 400 becquerels per cubic metre.
100 becquerels per cubic metre
More recently, a new target level of has been introduced. This is as a result of a recommendation from the World Health Organisation. The action levels have still been retained, however, the target level aims to ensure we are aware of the risks from radon and encourage us to make efforts to reduce levels to as low as is practical.
Radon risks and smoking in a radon affected area
Radon is the biggest contribution to radiation exposure of the UK population and it can be dangerous. When radon decays it forms tiny radioactive particles that may be breathed into the lungs. Radiation from these particles can cause lung cancer that may take many years to develop. The lung cancer radon causes proceeds in exactly the same way as cancer caused by smoking. Smoking and exposure to radon are known to work together to greatly increase the risk of developing lung cancer and smokers living in these areas are at a much greater risk and Cancer Research UK believe a smoker is 25 times more likely to get lung cancer if they live in a house affected by radon.
Radon in domestic dwellings
In radon affected areas such as the Derbyshire Dales, radon levels can become elevated in our homes. The only way of establishing whether a house has a radon problem is by having a radon test carried out. The radon test is carried out over a three month period and will provide an average annual level for the property and is available from the UK Health Security Agency.
What can I do if my level comes back over the action level?
Steps should be taken to reduce the amount of radon in your home. The work undertaken will be dependant upon how much the action level is exceeded by and the type and construction of your property. We would recommend that householders reduce their level of radon as low as is reasonable possible and as near as practical to the target level of 100 becquerels per cubic metre to protect health. Advice can be provided by the Environmental Health Section if you have a high level of Radon.
If you are in the process of buying a property in the Derbyshire Dales area, ask the seller whether the house has been tested. If it has been tested they should be able show you written evidence of the results, indicating whether it is above or below the recommended action level of 200 becquerels per cubic metre. If no test has been undertaken discuss getting a radon bond with your solicitor.
Radon in commercial premises
Radon can affect workplaces and public buildings in the same way as houses. However, in workplaces employers have legal duties to protect their employees.
The action level for radon in workplaces has been set at 400 becquerels per cubic metre, but exposure should be reduced to a level which is 'as low as reasonably practicable'
As an employer there are basic steps that can be taken to address the problem. The management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations of 1999 requires a risk assessment to be carried out to determine the likelihood of the workplace having an elevated level. The most effective way of doing this is to carry out radon monitoring to determine the exact level of radon in the premises. If the results indicate an elevated level then remedial action will be needed and in most cases this will involve carrying out minor building works to reduce the radon to an acceptable level.
To assist employers, BRE have prepared a guide for the Health and Safety Executive which describes how to measure radon levels in workplaces and the practical cost effective methods that are available for reducing radon levels in workplace buildings. Further advice on measurement and technical solutions for dealing with radon in the workplace is contained in BRE Report BR 293 Radon in the workplace For additional information on radon in the workplace please contact the Commercial team of the Environmental Health section or follow the link to the Health and Safety Executive website.