The air quality specialists at WTS examine the impact of radon gas inside homes, in the workplace, and the potential health effects that can result from prolonged exposure.
The article explains what radon is, where it is found in the UK, what are considered safe limits, and the health effects of exposure. It then looks at how indoor air quality testing can be used to help identify the problem, and a number of practical measures that can be taken to make buildings safe from the harmful effects of radon gas.
What is radon gas?
Radon is a naturally occurring radioactive substance. It comes from uranium which decays slowly over a long period of time in soil or rocks.
You can’t smell radon gas, nor can you see it or taste it. Outdoors, the level of radon in the air is very low and is nothing to worry about. However, inside buildings the gas can collect and reach levels which can cause health concerns for building occupants.
Most of the health issues associated with exposure to radon gas in the UK are down to the way we ventilate our homes and workplaces, typically with air bricks inserted around the base of the walls.
UK radon maps
The amount of radon in any particular area is down to the local geology – what type of rocks are most common in the area where you live or work. Some areas of the UK have much higher levels of radon than others.
There are lots of interactive tools to be found online which will allow you to look at maps, enter your postcode and see whether your area has higher levels of radon.
Some of the areas of the UK where radon levels are higher include Devon and Cornwall, Wales, the West Midlands, the northern part of Lancashire and parts of Northern Ireland. Areas with high levels of granite, such as Dartmoor and the Cairngorms in Scotland also have higher levels of radon.
Should I worry about radon gas?
It is well worth reviewing these UK radon maps before starting to worry unnecessarily about the effects of radon gas on you, your family or work colleagues.
Even within those areas shown with darker shading on the map, indicating higher levels of radon, not all homes and buildings will be affected in the same way. The interactive maps just give an indication of the chances of finding higher levels of radon gas in any given building.
in the UK exposure to radon accounts for over 1000 lung cancer deaths every year
If you do live in an area where very high levels are indicated, then the best thing to do is to carry out a radon test. The test and subsequent report will either put your mind at rest confirming that there isn’t a problem, or it will suggest ways of reducing the levels of radon gas to within recommended safe limits.
There is lots more information about everything related to radon on the UKradon website, run by Public Health England (although covering the whole of the UK).
What does radon gas do to your health?
If you are exposed to radon gas over a long period of time, this can greatly increase the risk of you developing lung cancer, especially in people who smoke. In the UK, after smoking, exposure to radon is the greatest cause of lung cancer accounting for over 1000 deaths every year.
What are safe radon levels in the UK
The UK government has set an action limit for radon in homes at 200 becquerels per cub metre (Bq-m³). If radon is found to be above this level, homeowners and businesses should take steps to reduce it.
the action limit for radon in homes is currently set at 200 becquerels per cub metre (Bq-m³)
You can buy radon monitoring test kits and meters from various sources, which might provide some reassurance. However, they aren’t as accurate as the equipment used by professionals, so it is usually best to get a professional survey done in the first instance if you are concerned.
What is radon testing?
Although radon testing is something usually carried out for people living or working in areas where radon is known to be a problem, any homeowner or business can choose to test for radon at any time. However, before rushing in and buying expensive detection equipment, you should consider commissioning a radon risk report from Public Health England via their UKradon site.
Getting one of these risk reports offers great value. If the report indicates that your home or business is in an area with an elevated risk of radon, you might then choose to progress to the next level of radon testing.
What does a test for radon involve?
Typically radon tests are very simple and don’t require any particular specialist knowledge. Radon detectors look a bit like flat plastic discs. All you need to do is put one in the living space of your home and another in the bedroom, then leave them for around three months.
The length of time of the test is down to the fact that the levels of radon in the atmosphere can vary greatly from day to day, depending on the weather.
After the three months, you should then send the discs off to the radon testing company you bought them from, and they will analyse the contents in a laboratory. This is a relatively cheap way of testing for radon, and the cost for two monitor discs will usually be very cost effective.
Alternatively, there are various digital radon monitors which you can buy online, but they are no more accurate than the plastic disc method and can be more expensive.
How to make a house safe from radon gas
If a radon survey indicates that the levels in your home or workplace are above or approaching the action levels set by the UK government, which are 200 becquerels per cubic metre (Bq-m³), then it’s time to take steps to do something about it.
There are various things you can do to reduce radon gas levels in your home or workplace. The most effective method is a radon sump. This draws the air towards the sump using a fan. The sump then expels the air outside and so reduces the levels inside the building.
Sumps should always be professionally installed, as where they are located will affect how effective they are. Once in place, a radon sump should not cost too much to run each year.
Controlling radon gas levels in new-build homes
House builders and developers who build new homes in areas known to have high radon levels will usually take proactive steps at the construction phase to stop radon getting into the homes they build. This usually involves the installation of a radon barrier.
Other methods to reduce radon levels
There are other steps you can also choose to take to reduce levels of radon gas, such as increasing ventilation under a suspended floor, using mechanical or natural ventilation methods depending on the situation.
If you commission a professional survey to look at the levels of radon in your home or workplace, the results will usually be returned with a report which will set out the best way of dealing with the radon levels to make your property safe.
What do the Building Regulations say about radon?
Building requirements for house builders and people constructing new-build homes, refurbishing older properties or building an extension vary across the country.
In areas with very low radon risk levels, there may be no restrictions at all. In other areas, taking steps to prevent the build-up of radon gas are usually part of the formal building control process.
If you are renting your property, then it is usually the responsibility of the landlord to take steps to reduce the radon levels in your home. If your landlord refuses to help, you should get advice from your local Council’s Environmental Protection department.
Specialist indoor air quality solutions
WTS offer a comprehensive range of indoor air quality solutions to support home owners, businesses, property managers, health and safety professionals, and facilities management specialists. Our experts can provide advice and support to help you identify the most appropriate strategies for the identification and investigation of indoor air pollutants such as radon gas, VOCs, mould spores and particulates.
With offices in London serving the South and South East England, Manchester (North West), Birmingham (Midlands), Bristol (South East England and Wales), Leeds (North and North East) and Glasgow (Scotland), supported by regional teams of specially trained technicians, in-field specialists and consultants we can offer professional, cost effective indoor air quality solutions throughout the UK and internationally.
Contact us today to learn how our home and workplace solutions can help keep you, your staff and other people safe from exposure to radon and other indoor air pollutants.
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