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Radon Gas

Volume 447: debated on Tuesday 20 June 2006

To ask the Secretary of State for Health what measurement of radon gas has been recorded in each county in each of the last five years; and how this information is made available to the public. (77677)

The radiation division of the Health Protection Agency (HPA) manages the radon measurement programme in England and Wales. Buildings are monitored using two detectors supplied by HPA to measure levels of radon over a three-month period.

The HPA uses various campaign methods to encourage householders to have their dwellings measured but a number of householders choose to ignore this support. In the future, house holder-sales packs will include a section about radon levels in the house which will significantly help to raise awareness of radon gas.

The readings are fed into a national database to produce the radon atlas of England and Wales, publication NRPB-W26 from the HPA and available as a free download on www.hpa.org.uk/radiation, provides detailed data by administrative and postcode divisions as well as the definitive radon probability maps. This publication is due to be updated within the next 12 months.

To ask the Secretary of State for Health what measures are in place to protect citizens from the effects of radon gas. (77678)

The National Radiological Protection Board (NRPB) first offered advice to the Government on the exposure to radon in dwellings in early 1987. (In 2005 the NRPB merged with the Health Protection Agency, becoming its radiation protection division.)

This advice was updated and expanded in 1990 in a statement and supporting document on the limitation of human exposure to radon in homes (reference NRPB. Human exposure to radon in homes. Doc. NRPB. 1, No. 1, 17-32 (1990)). Central to the control strategy is a recommendation that radon concentrations at or above an action level should be reduced to as low as reasonably practicable. In areas with a high risk of elevated radon concentrations, the radon concentration in existing homes should be measured and reduced as appropriate and new homes built with protective measures against radon.

Legislation under the Health and Safety at Work Act, Etc. 1974 means that in places of work the Ionising Radiations Regulations 1999 come into effect if radon is present above a defined level and then employers are required to take action to restrict resulting exposures.

To ask the Secretary of State for Health whether the Government have determined a maximum safe level of radon gas. (77685)

Radiation protection principles are based on the level of risk and this approach is applied when dealing with radon gas levels in buildings. The risks from the presence of radon gas have to be balanced against other factors. From a public health perspective, priority has to be given to areas and houses that are more likely to suffer from the problem and this is tackled in many ways.

The Government accepted advice in a statement from the National Radiological Protection Board (NRPB), published in 1990, on the limitation of human exposure to radon in homes and implemented the recommendations contained in the supporting document (reference NRPB. Human exposure to radon in homes. Doc. NRPB. 1, No. 1, 17-32 (1990)). (In 2005, the NRPB merged with the Health Protection Agency (HPA), becoming its Radiation Protection Division.)

The results of 13 European studies of indoor radon and lung cancer, taken together, provide overwhelming evidence that radon can cause lung cancer. There is no evidence of a threshold below which radon exposure is safe, and there is substantial evidence of a risk for individuals who live in homes with moderate radon concentrations as well as those with homes above 200 bequerels per metre cubed, the current United Kingdom (UK) action level. Homeowners are currently advised to apply radon reduction measures if tests show levels above the action level.

Significant efforts are being made by World Health Organisation, developed countries, UK Government and the HPA to determine how to raise awareness of the issue and to how to better tackle the whole problem.