In January 2011 The Highland Council is to start testing properties in the Highlands at highest risk from radon gas. A programme has been developed following the publication last year of new radon maps for Scotland produced by the Health Protection Agency (HPA).
Highland is one of 16 local authorities in Scotland which has areas with a presence of radon exceeding the level which requires action to remedy the problem.
The initial free testing will be offered to around 1000 properties in the Helmsdale and Fort Augustus areas. Private householders will receive invitations from HPA and Council tenants will be contacted by Council officers to arrange testing. All households are encouraged to participate in the free testing programme.
The Highland Council has worked with the UK Health Protection Agency (HPA) and NHS Highland to develop the programme of action to help Highland residents, whose homes have been identified as having high levels of the naturally occurring radioactive gas, radon. The programme will continue through 2011 and 2012 offering help and advice from the Council, NHS Highland, Scottish Government and HPA. Further testing will be offered to properties in medium risk areas.
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.
HPA recommends that action should be taken to reduce radon levels in houses where the radon concentration is measured at or above the Action Level of 200 becquerels per cubic metre Bq m-3.
The HPA says testing for radon is 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 by increasing the ventilation under a suspended floor or sucking out the radon from under a solid floor, using a fan. The cost of remedial work is usually in the range £500 - £2,000.
Councillor John Laing, Chairman of The Highland Council’s Transport, Environmental and Community Services Committee, said: “The Council, together with partners in the NHS and the HPA, looks forward to examining the results of the proposed testing programme.”
He added: “Protecting public health is one of the Council’s main roles. Having this information will enable us to take appropriate measures to protect and advise those people living and working in the affected areas.”
Alistair Thomson, Highland Council’s Head of Environmental Health and Trading Standards said: “There is no need for any immediate concern. There is no acute risk from radon. Any risk is due to long-term exposure. We will assist with the proposed testing regime which should alleviate concerns in many cases. In cases where test results show levels to be unsatisfactory we will offer guidance and advice on measures to deal with the problem. We may also be able to offer Housing Grants for any works required.”
Dr. Ken Oates, Consultant in Public Health Medicine with NHS Highland, said: “I welcome this initiative by the Health Protection Agency and The Highland Council to raise awareness about the potential health effects of radon gas and then to take action to reduce it in high risk homes and other properties. Lung cancer still kills far too many people in Scotland every year. The most important measure people can take to prevent lung cancer is to stop smoking but other measures, such as reducing high levels of radon in their home, are also well worth doing."
Radon is a naturally occurring radioactive gas. You cannot see, hear, feel or taste it. It comes from the tiny amounts of uranium that occur naturally in all rocks and soils. Radon is present in all parts of the UK. The gas disperses outdoors so levels are generally very low. Each individual breathes it in throughout their lives and for most UK residents, radon accounts for half of their total annual radiation dosage. However, geological conditions in certain areas, including some parts of the Highlands, can lead to higher than average levels. Exposure to high levels of radon, over a long period may increase the risk of developing lung cancer.
The HPA report containing radon probability maps, which give an overview of radon affected areas in Scotland based on 5-km squares on the national grid is available as a free download (PDF) on the HPA website (http://www.hpa.org.uk).