Radon is a naturally occurring, radioactive gas that arises from soil and rocks.
A radon affected area is an area where 1% or more of the properties are affected at or above the action level for radon of 200 Becquerels per cubic metre (Bq/m-3).
This action level was set on advice from the National Radiological Protection Board (NRPB) and this recommendation has been endorsed by the Government. The action level is 10 times the national average for domestic properties. The NRPB merged with the Health Protection Agency (HPA) in 2005 and they have now become Public Health England (PHE) Radiation Protection Division. For more information on Radon visit the dedicated radon web-pages at the PHE website.
Radon comes from minute amounts of uranium present in all earth materials. It is the largest source of natural radiation that we encounter and accounts for around 50% of all the radiation we are exposed to. Although radon is thought by many to be only associated with areas built on granite, it is in fact present in most parts of the UK. Radon is also found in other countries including Sweden, the other Nordic Countries, Germany and USA.
When radon enters our homes and either the ventilation is poor or excessively large amounts are present, it can build up to high concentrations. If we live with these high concentrations over a long period of time, we face an increased risk of lung cancer.
If you want to know how much radon is present in your home than it is possible to order radon detection kits. The only reliable guide to the level of radon in a building is a measurement over a period long enough to average out short-term variations in radon levels - this should ideally be three months. The procedure recommended by PHE is to use passive monitors as they are reliable, simple to use and can be sent by post. The individual result for each home is confidential and will not be given to anyone else without the prior consent of the householder at the time of the measurement. It is possible to order a home measurement pack from UK radon. If you are buying a property and wish to know what levels of radon are present you can purchase a radon risk report from UK radon.
Where a property is found to be above the action level, PHE suggests that remedial work is undertaken to reduce the levels. The solution very much depends upon the radon level and property construction. At some of the lower levels, the solutions can be very simple and cheap to install. This could be the replacement of old air bricks with the more efficient modern ones. If you are installing new windows, then think about specifying trickle vents to improve the ventilation. At the higher levels, it is generally felt that some form of mechanical system would be necessary. The Building Research Establishment has been working with radon solutions for many years. More information can be found on their web site about radon solutions.
Radon is also a concern in the workplace and an employer has a legal duty under the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 to ensure you are not exposed to high levels of radon in the workplace. For further advice and information on radon in the workplace visit the Health and Safety Executive website which has publications for download and advice on how to comply with the law.