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HPA - Cornish radon hotspot targeted

Thousands of households in a part of Cornwall with historic radon problems are being offered a free test for levels of the radioactive gas radon.

Radon occurs naturally and is present all over the UK. It cannot be seen, smelled or tasted - but each year long term exposure to it is believed to lead to over 1,000 lung cancer deaths across the UK. Cornwall has long been known to have the highest radon levels in the UK.

Letters have this week gone to around 17,000 homes in the former Carrick district, as part of ongoing HPA, Cornwall Council and Primary Care Trust work, offering householders a free radon test.

Over the years the HPA has measured radon in more than 14,000 homes in the district and found it has the fifth highest average radon concentration in England. The HPA scientists have calculated that the average level in those homes was 145 Becquerels per cubic metre of air (Bq m-3) – almost seven times higher than the English average, 21 Bq m-3.

“Families in Cornwall have long been familiar with radon and its health risks” said Neil McColl, head of radon at the HPA’s Centre for Radiation, Chemicals and Environmental Hazards.

“Over the years much has been done to reduce radon exposure in Cornwall. But there is still much to do. In the past year or two we have found many more houses across the county with very high readings.

“This tells us that there are still many more homes in the Carrick area with the potential for very high radon exposure – which is important to consider as radon is the second biggest cause of lung cancer.

“That’s why it is so important for those we contact to take up this offer. Each home has its own radon level that you can only tell by testing.”

A home radon test involves placing two plastic detectors, about the size of a biscuit, in key positions around the home. After three months the detectors are posted to the HPA where they are analysed and the radon level is calculated. If levels are high the HPA will recommend action to reduce levels and will invite householders to local advice sessions.

This latest free test offer follows HPA and Cornwall Council initiatives in neighbouring Caradon and Restormel, where up to 40 per cent of those contacted took up the free test offer.

Lee Wagland, an officer from the Cornwall Council Environmental Health Service, said: “Reducing the risks posed by radon can be easily done. Protecting your homes, if you have high levels, can be a relatively straight forward process and some of this can even be undertaken by anyone with practical DIY experience.”

Felicity Owen, Director of Public Health, at Cornwall and Isles of Scilly Primary Care Trust, said: “High readings of radon in homes across Cornwall are rare – but they do still happen. What that tells us is that there could be many more people across the county who remain at risk from exposure to this gas. That’s why this HPA work is so important – testing really could help protect you and your family from the dangers of radon exposure.

“It’s especially important for smokers, or recent ex-smokers to test for radon. This is because radon presents a significantly bigger heath risk to these groups. If you are a smoker or an ex-smoker and you get the offer of a free radon test, we strongly urge you to take up the offer.”

Notes to Editors

  • The Health Protection Agency is the official adviser to all arms of the UK Government on the health effects of radiation.
  • Radon is measured in Becquerels per cubic metre of air (Bq per m3). The higher the reading in becquerels the greater the radioactivity of a substance.
  • The HPA’s radon Action Level is 200 Bq per m3 and is the point at which the Agency recommends steps are taken to reduce exposure.
  • The HPA’s radon Target Level is 100 Bq per m3, and is the level that HPA recommends those undertaking remediation aim for.
  • Households that include smokers or ex-smokers should consider action if they have radon levels above the Target Level.
  • People across the UK are exposed to an average of 20 Bq m–3 of radon a year. This is most people’s single largest exposure to radiation and makes up approximately half of the UK population’s average annual radiation dose.
  • Different regulations apply to radon levels in workplaces. For advice on radon in work places visit http://www.hpa.org.uk or http://www.ukradon.org or http://www.hse.org.uk.
  • Pictures of typical remediation works and radon detectors are available.
  • For more information about radon visit http://www.hpa.org.uk/Topics/Radiation/UnderstandingRadiation/UnderstandingRadiationTopics/Radon/ or http://www.ukradon.org.
  • For interviews or more information please contact the CRCE press office on 01235 822745/876.

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