The greatest health risk from radiation in Ireland is caused by radon. It accounts for 55% of total radiation doses received by the Irish population. The effects of high and very high doses of radiation, including serious injury, cancer and death, are reasonably well understood from scientific studies. The World Health Organisation has categorised radon as a carcinogen, in the same group as asbestos and tobacco smoke. Up to 250 cases of lung cancer each year in Ireland are linked to radon exposure. There is no scientific evidence linking radon with any other types of respiratory illnesses or other cancers however.
Over a long period of time, exposure to radon can increase your risk of developing lung cancer. Radon produces tiny radioactive particles. When they are inhaled these particles can be deposited in the airways and result in a radiation dose to your lungs. There is a direct link between radon and tobacco smoke. This means that smokers are at much greater risk of developing radon related lung cancer than non-smokers.
For homes and schools in Ireland, the acceptable level of radon is 200 becquerel per cubic metre. In Ireland, it is estimated that a lifetime exposure to radon in the home at the Reference Level of 200 Bq/m3 carries an average risk of about 1 in 50 of contracting lung cancer. The risk is much lower for non-smokers at about 1 in 700 and far greater for active smokers at about 1 in 30.
From early 2018 the Reference Level for radon in workplaces has been reduced from 400 Bq/m3 to 300 Bq/m3. This reduction is based on EU regulations concerning implementation of Council Directive 2013/59/Euratom. Therefore, if the measured radon concentration in a workplace is greater than 300 Bq/m3 you should consider taking remedial action to reduce those levels (EPA, 2018).
You can minimise the health risk from radon gas, by measuring it in buildings and, if necessary, reducing its concentrations in your home and in your workplace (EPA, 2018). Guidelines on reducing your radon exposure can be found here. You can also estimate your annual average radiation dose based on your location and aviation travel patterns using the EPA's online calculator.
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