Radon testing at Highland Council properties

 

The Highland Council has updated school head teachers, staff, parents and local Highland Council members on the outcomes of radon monitoring in some of its education properties and schools. The following briefing was issued today (24 April 2015).

As reported in the briefings dated 08/01/2015 (for Glen Urquhart High School, Kilchuimen Primary School and Academy and The Telford Centre) and 20/01/2015 (for Ardnamurchan High School and Ardnamurchan Hostel) the Council has been taking action to reduce radon in its properties where previous testing had showed that a number of properties had areas where radon levels were above the statutory action level of 400 Bq/m³.

Glen Urquhart High, Kilchuimen Primary and Academy, and The Telford Centre.

At these first 3 facilities, specialist mitigation work was completed on all sites with radon above the action level, but as previously advised further long term (90 day) radon testing was carried out to determine the effectiveness of the specialist works.  This testing demonstrated a significant reduction in the levels reported, with many areas falling below statutory action levels.  However, the testing showed radon levels above 400 Bq/m³ in some locations.  Further works and/or monitoring has been initiated in these sites, the results of which will be reported when available.

Ardnamurchan High and Ardnamurchan Hostel

Initial long term (90 day) testing at Ardnamurchan High and Ardnamurchan Hostel had indicated radon levels in the school below the statutory action level of 400 Bq/m³, but above the target level of 200 Bq/m³.

Where radon levels are found to be above the target level of 200 Bq/m³, but below the statutory action level of 400 Bq/m³, initial practical steps will be taken to reduce the radon level, such as examining and increasing existing ventilation and sealing floor cracks and pipe runs, etc. This has been done at Ardnamurchan High. Properties in this category will be reviewed as part of The Highland Council’s on-going radon remediation programme.

Subsequent advice from Public Health England (PHE) was that the Ardnamurchan Hostel should be treated as a domestic property and the action level applied is 200 Bq/m³. However, they also agreed that the area should be re-tested (90 day monitors) to better establish the levels of radon present before identifying what remediation works may be required and that the building should continue to be used as normal. That testing is currently on-going with results likely towards the end of June, 2015.

Further details on all 5 properties are given in table 1 below.

Further testing of 39 properties

In addition to the properties referred to above, as part of its on-going programme to check its properties for levels of naturally occurring radon gas, the Council carried out radon testing at 39 workplace properties that are deemed to have a 1% - 3% probability of radon gas being present above 200 Bqm³ in radon affected areas in Highland. The Council also carried out testing at 5 residential properties at the same time and these properties are included within this note. 

Overall, the results are very positive, with 36 out of the 39 properties recording results below the statutory action level of 400 Bq/m³. Furthermore, 29 of those 36 showed radon levels at less than the target level of 200 Bq/m³.  Details are set out in list 2 below.

Three facilities have been identified as having radon present in excess of the 400 Bq/m³ action level.  These properties are Ardgour Primary, Carrbridge Primary and Newtonmore Primary. 

What happens next in relation to these properties?

Where low levels of radon exist (less than the target level of 200 Bq/m³), no further action will be required, although the property will be re-tested within a period of ten years or if any significant works are undertaken to the property which may affect the ventilation levels within the property, or pressure differential between the internal and external environments.

Where radon levels are found to be above the target Level of 200 Bq/m³, but below the statutory action level of 400 Bq/m³, initial practical steps will be taken to reduce the radon level, such as examining and increasing existing ventilation and sealing floor cracks and pipe runs, etc. These properties will be reviewed as part of the Council’s on-going radon remediation programme.

Where radon levels are found to be above the statutory action level of 400 Bq/m³ the Council and their specialist radon advisor, working in consultation with Public Health England (PHE), the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and each property Responsible Premises Officer (RPO), will examine the results of the testing and the construction detail of the property and will decide on the most appropriate remedial measures to take (on top of the practical steps mentioned in the paragraph immediately above). Based on experience elsewhere, this is likely to involve increasing the ventilation under a suspended floor or sucking out the radon from under a solid floor, using a fan. Other control options such as positive pressure systems or occupancy restrictions may also be considered if appropriate and practical.

Remedial works to properties will be arranged by the Council’s Development and Infrastructure Service and any management actions required within the property will be arranged by the property RPOs. Wherever possible this will be arranged to minimise any impact on service delivery, with any major remediation works being programmed for the summer holidays whenever possible.

This is a similar approach to that which has been very successfully applied to Council properties elsewhere where mitigation works substantially reduced initially recorded levels of radon.

There has been ongoing liaison with PHE and the HSE throughout the Council’s radon monitoring programme and this will continue for the 3 schools identified under the latest round of monitoring.

A further briefing note will be issued once further actions have been identified.

Anyone with queries about radon, or the health effects associated with radon please contact Public Health England on 01235 822 622 during normal office hours, or visit their website at http://www.ukradon.org/.

Table 1:  

Property

Specialist works

Current position

Glen Urquhart High

Initial and secondary works complete

90 day radon monitoring on-going. Results due August 2015.

Kilchuimen Primary and Academy

Initial and secondary works complete

90 day radon monitoring on-going. Results due August 2015.

Telford Centre

Initial works complete

Radon monitoring on-going.

Ardnamurchan High

n/a

90 day monitoring results were under the action level of 400 Bq/m³. THC to review if any further remediation action required.

Ardnamurchan High School Hostel

n/a

90 day radon monitoring on-going. Results due June 2015.

List 2:

December 2014 – March 2015 radon gas testing

  • Abernethy Primary: All results are under the action level of 400 Bq/m³. THC to review if any further remediation action required.  
  • Ardgour Primary: 7 of 9 results are over the action level of 400 Bq/m³ (range from 460 – 3,000 Bq/m³). The Council is working to determine what remediation action is required.
  • Avoch Primary: All results are under the action level of 400 Bq/m³. THC to review if any further remediation action required.
  • Ashton Road Children’s Residential Centre: All results under the target level of 200 Bq/m³. No remediation required.
  • Avonlea Children’s Unit: All results under the target level of 200 Bq/m³. No remediation required.
  • Balnain Primary: All results under the target level of 200 Bq/m³. No remediation required.
  • Banavie Primary: All results under the target level of 200 Bq/m³. No remediation required.
  • Black Isle Education Centre: All results under the target level of 200 Bq/m³. No remediation required.
  • Bower Primary: All results under the target level of 200 Bq/m³. No remediation required.
  • Carrbridge Primary: 1 of 15 results is over the action level of 400 Bq/m³ (420 Bq/m³). 8 results in excess of the target level of 200 Bq/m³ (range from 220 – 350 Bq/m³). The Council is working to determine what remediation action is required.
  • Crossroads Primary: All results are under the action level of 400 Bq/m³. THC to review if any further remediation action required.
  • Culbokie Primary (PPP): All results under the target level of 200 Bq/m³. No remediation required.
  • Daviot Primary: All results under the target level of 200 Bq/m³. No remediation required.
  • Durness Primary: All results under the target level of 200 Bq/m³. No remediation required.
  • Farr Primary & Secondary: All results under the target level of 200 Bq/m³. No remediation required.
  • Farr Primary (Inverness): All results under the target level of 200 Bq/m³. No remediation required.
  • Foyers Primary: All results under the target level of 200 Bq/m³. No remediation required.
  • Gergask Primary: All results under the target level of 200 Bq/m³. No remediation required.
  • Glencoe Primary: All results under the target level of 200 Bq/m³. No remediation required.
  • Golspie High: All results are under the action level of 400 Bq/m³. THC to review if any further remediation action required.
  • Grantown Grammar: All results are under the action level of 400 Bq/m³. THC to review if any further remediation action required.
  • Grantown Primary: All results under the target level of 200 Bq/m³. No remediation required.
  • Inverlochy Primary: All results under the target level of 200 Bq/m³. No remediation required.
  • Kilmuir Road Children’s Residential Centre: All results under the target level of 200 Bq/m³. No remediation required.
  • Kingussie High: All results are under the action level of 400 Bq/m³. THC to review if any further remediation action required.
  • Kingussie Primary: All results under the target level of 200 Bq/m³. No remediation required.
  • Kirkhill Primary: All results under the target level of 200 Bq/m³. No remediation required.
  • Leault Children’s Residential Centre: All results under the target level of 200 Bq/m³. No remediation required.
  • Lochaber High: All results are under the action level of 400 Bq/m³. THC to review if any further remediation action required.
  • Lochyside RC Primary: All results under the target level of 200 Bq/m³. No remediation required.
  • Lybster Primary: All results under the target level of 200 Bq/m³. No remediation required.
  • Milton of Leys Primary: All results under the target level of 200 Bq/m³. No remediation required.
  • Mount Pleasant Primary: All results under the target level of 200 Bq/m³. No remediation required.
  • Newtonmore Primary: 1 of 11 results is over the action level of 400 Bq/m³ (510 Bq/m³). 2 results are in excess of the Target Level of 200 Bq/m³ (330 & 340 Bq/m³). The Council is working to determine what remediation action is required.
  • Raasay Primary: All results under the target level of 200 Bq/m³. No remediation required.
  • Reay Primary: All results under the target level of 200 Bq/m³. No remediation required.
  • St Brides Primary, Onich: All results under the target level of 200 Bq/m³. No remediation required.
  • Strontian Community Complex & Primary: All results under the target level of 200 Bq/m³. No remediation required.
  • The Orchard Residential Centre: All results under the target level of 200 Bq/m³. No remediation required.

Radon – frequently asked questions

1.          What is radon?

Radon is a naturally occurring radioactive gas. It is produced by the decay of uranium that is present in all rocks and soils. In open air, it disperses very quickly, but can accumulate to high levels in buildings. The amount in the indoor air depends on the local geology and the building design, heating, ventilation and use. Radon is present in all buildings, including homes, so we all breathe it in throughout our lives. For most UK residents, radon accounts for about half of their total annual radiation dose. The average level in UK homes is 20 Becquerels per cubic metre of indoor air (Bq/m3).  

2.          What are the health effects of radon?

Radon is present in all air. Everyone breathes radon in every day, usually at very low levels. However, exposure to high levels of radon increases the risk of developing lung cancer. 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.  

Significant long term exposure to high levels of radon can increase the risk of lung cancer. Of the 33,000 deaths from lung cancer every year in the UK, between 1,000 and 2,000 deaths are related to radon; however the majority of these are in smokers and ex-smokers. The risk of lung cancer is highest for people who smoke tobacco and have high radon exposures. If you smoke tobacco, quitting is the most effective way of reducing the risk of lung cancer. The risk of lung cancer from exposure to radon in lifetime non-smokers is small and many times lower than the risk of lung cancer if you smoke tobacco.  

3.          What is the definition of ‘significant long-term exposure’ to radon?

Everyone is exposed to radon throughout their lifetime – it is unavoidable (exposure is the combination of the radon level and the duration).  With radon we think of exposure duration in terms of many years, usually decades.  Hence the action levels are set at radon concentrations where measures are justified to control radon exposure and reduce the risk of adverse health effects, assuming that people would be exposed to it over the long term.  

4.          What are radon ‘Action’ Levels’?

Radiation protection standards in workplaces are set by the Ionising Radiations Regulations 1999, which apply if radon levels are above 400 Bq/m3. If levels exceed this concentration, action should be taken to reduce radiation exposure to staff and other occupants.  Usually this is done by lowering the radon level. There is no way to eliminate all radon from the world. However, by putting in place some minor building work the levels can be reduced below the action level so that the risk becomes very small.  

5.          Are children more at risk from radon than adults?

There is no evidence that radon exposure during childhood causes a greater risk than that during adulthood. Action levels for radon in homes, and also for workplaces (including schools), take into account that exposure could take place over many years. The action levels are set accordingly.  

6.          How do you know where to test for radon?

The UK's primary experts on radiation protection, Public Health England (PHE) publish radon maps for the UK. These identify areas with a higher probability of radon concentration exceeding the radon action level.  The maps for Scotland are available here http://www.ukradon.org/information/ukmaps  

7.          Why were schools monitored for radon?

As the Highlands were identified as having radon-affected areas the Council, like other employers, is required to monitor its premises for radon and act accordingly if levels are found to be above the action level. The Council has developed a monitoring programme. Radon tests were carried out at 13 schools over the required three month period in 2013. The results have been analysed and, in the case of five schools, have prompted the need for remedial measures to be put in place at the schools.  

8.          How was the radon level measured?

Radon levels can vary between adjacent buildings and even in a room, radon levels can vary from day to day and hour to hour. Because of these fluctuations, radon levels are normally measured over a three month period with the use of small plastic detectors.  

9.          My children have attended this school with high radon for many years – what are the risks?

The increased risk to pupils, caused by exposure to radon at school, is very low. It is especially important that older pupils do not smoke since this is harmful to health in itself and increases the risks from radon exposure.  

10.       I have worked in the school for many years, am I at risk of getting lung cancer?

The risk of staff members developing lung cancer from radon exposure during the time they have worked at school is very small. The risk is higher in those who also smoke, so for smokers the most effective way of reducing the risk further is by stopping smoking. The remedial work which will be carried out will limit exposure to radon in the future for staff members working in the school.  

11.       What about the rest of the community?

All employers and landlords are obliged to check if their properties are at risk. A first step is to check radon maps available at the website http://www.ukradon.org/. They may also need to carry out testing which can be simply arranged through the same website at minimal cost (around £25 for a radon detector).

Householders are encouraged to check the maps available at the website http://www.ukradon.org/. The http://www.ukradon.org/ website also offers a detailed map check on individual properties for around £4. If the house is in an area at risk from radon then monitoring should be carried out. This can be simply arranged through the same website at minimal cost (around £50 for a radon test pack).  

12.       When will the next update be issued?

An update will be issued to all schools once further monitoring results are received.  

13.       Who can I contact at the Council to discuss issues with schools?

Please contact Highland Council’s Environmental Health team on 01349 886603, or email env.health@highland.gov.uk 

14.        Who can I contact if I want further information on radon or to discuss risks?

Public Health England can be contacted directly if you wish to discuss any of the items further. Public Health England can be contacted on 01235 822622, or email through the website http://www.ukradon.org/contactform

General information about radon and health risks can be found at http://www.ukradon.org/

 

24 Apr 2015
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