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Radon map published
A new map showing which areas of Scotland have the highest levels of the naturally-occurring radioactive gas radon has been published to help homeowners identify whether they need to take any action.
Radon occurs in all rocks and most soils and while quickly diluted if it escapes into the air, it can get trapped inside buildings and, over time, exposure can increase the risk of lung cancer.
The maps - produced by the UK Health Protection Agency for the Scottish Government - shows 'Radon Affected Areas', where at least one house in a hundred can be expected to exceed the HPA's Action Level.
The HPA advises that any house showing a radon build-up above this level should have work carried out to remedy the problem.
In response to the map's publication, the Scottish Government has announced free testing for homeowners in areas with a five per cent chance or more of houses being above the Action Level.
In Scotland as a whole, around 62,000 homes are located in Radon Affected Areas, although it is estimated that only between 1,000 and 3,000 of these will have radon concentrations above the Action Level.
Nicola Sturgeon, Cabinet Secretary for Health and Wellbeing, said:
"The build-up of radon in houses can put health at serious risk and is estimated to cause between 100 and 200 lung cancer deaths in Scotland every year.
"This new map identifies the areas of Scotland most affected and the measures announced today by the Scottish Government will assist those homeowners most at risk to get their properties tested, so they know whether works might be needed to address the problem.
"Anyone in an area where the chance of their house being above the Action Level is five per cent or more will be entitled to a free test, to be carried out by the Health Protection Agency. The testing programme will be carried out on a rolling basis from this summer and continuing until 2011.
"We are amending building regulations guidance to ensure that all new buildings proposed within the identified risk areas are constructed with the required radon protection measures.
"In addition, we will encourage local authorities and NHS boards to ensure that any public buildings - such as schools or hospitals - in radon affected areas are properly tested and to take the appropriate action as required."
Radon is the second biggest cause of lung cancer after smoking, causing around 1-2,000 deaths in the UK annually, compared to about 30,000 deaths due to smoking.
The UK Action Level for radon is 200 becquerels per cubic metre (Bq m-3). The Health Protection Agency recommends that houses above this level should have works done to address the problem.
Two radon-affected areas were identified in 1993 in Scotland - one in Kincardine and Deeside/Gordon and the other in the area round Helmsdale in Sutherland and Caithness. The new maps follow a more detailed survey and provide a more accurate picture of where radon levels are relatively high.
Testing for radon is a straightforward process. Two small detectors are placed in a house for three months after which they are sent for analysis. Where a high level of radon is present, steps can be taken to reduce the level, normally increasing the ventilation under a suspended floor or sucking out the radon from under a solid floor using a small fan. The cost of remedial work is usually in the range of 500-2,000 pounds. In cases where remedial work is required but owners are unable to pay, financial assistance may be available from the local authority, depending on its policies for assistance.
Building regulations guidance has been amended so that radon protection measures must be incorporated where a new building is in an area of high risk.
The Scottish Government will be working with the Health Protection Agency and others to offer information and advice in the areas most affected by radon. Householders living in areas with a five per cent or more chance of their home being above the Action Level will be offered a free radon test, to be organised by the Health Protection Agency, as part of a phased programme of help, advice and training from the Scottish Government.
The map shows that the Radon Affected Areas are spread across 16 local authorities and those with the highest numbers of possibly affected homes include Aberdeenshire, Highland, Orkney and the Scottish Borders.
Members of the public who have further questions can contact HPA's radon team directly through email@example.com or phone 01235 822 622 during normal office hours.
Radon information packs can also be ordered using HPA's automated free-phone service (0800 614529) which is available 24 hours a day.