Radon found in five Highland Schools

As part of an on-going monitoring programme, recent radon testing in five Highland schools has found high levels of radon gas. The schools are Glen Urquhart High School, Drumnadrochit; Glen Urquhart Primary School, Drumnadrochit; Helmsdale Primary School; Halkirk Primary School; and Kilchuimen Primary and Academy, Fort Augustus, which is a shared campus.

The tests found that radon measurements were above the level at which action is required to reduce the presence of this naturally occurring gas.  In response, staff and parents have been informed of the results and action will be taken by the Council to reduce radon levels in the area affected.  Testing will continue to ensure that levels are reduced and remain below the action level. 

Checks are being carried out by Council officers to identify and implement any immediate steps that can be taken to reduce radon levels. Arrangements are also being made to engage a specialist consultant to supervise detailed surveys, and recommend long term mitigation measures to reduce radon. 

The following eight schools were also tested and radon levels were found to be below the action level:  Tarradale Primary School; Deshar Primary School; Invergarry Primary School; Beauly Primary School; Cannich Bridge Primary School; Teanassie Primary School; Castletown Primary School; and Marybank Primary School.

Radon is a natural radioactive gas.  It is invisible, has no smell and no taste.  It comes from a tiny amount of uranium that is found in all rocks and soils.  Radon is present in all parts of the UK, although the gas disperses quickly outdoors so levels are generally very low.  Radon is also present in all buildings, including homes.  For most UK residents, radon accounts for about half of their total annual radiation dose.

There are health risks associated with radon.  But these require significant long term exposure to the gas over many years.  The Council’s Environmental Health Manager, Alan Yates, has discussed this matter with colleagues at Public Health England, who have advised that the high levels should be reduced and further specialist advice should be obtained. The schools can remain open while this work is done.

Hugh Fraser, The Highland Council’s Director of Education, Culture and Sport said: “The Council will take action to ensure the radon levels in these schools are reduced below the legal limits. We have been advised that the risks to staff and pupils are very low.”

Dr. Ken Oates, Consultant in Public Health Medicine with NHS Highland, said: “The increased risk to pupils or staff of developing lung cancer, caused by exposure to radon while at school, is very low indeed. Smoking is a much greater risk of lung cancer and so it is much more important that people don’t smoke. There is no evidence that exposure to radon increases the risk of other cancers and exposure to radon does not cause short term health effects such as shortness of breath, coughing, headaches or fever, or long term chest conditions such as asthma, emphysema or chronic obstructive lung disease.”

Neil McColl, head of radon at the PHE’s Centre for Radiation, Chemical and Environmental Hazards, has told the Council: “High levels of radon should be reduced but in this case the buildings can continue to be used while work is carried out.”

Alan Yates, Environmental Health Manager, said: “The Council’s monitoring programme has identified the high levels in these schools. I encourage employers and householders across the Highlands to check if their properties may be at risk by visiting the UKRadon website and checking the maps. We may also be able to offer housing grants to householders for any works required.”

All parents and staff at the affected schools were informed by letter. An FAQ document has also been provided and can be viewed on the Council’s website www.highland.gov.uk. Further information is available on the Public Health England’s radon website: http://www.ukradon.org/

14 Feb 2014