Thursday, 4 November 2004

Questions (33, 34, 35, 36, 37)

Paul McGrath

Question:

22 Mr. P. McGrath asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government if he and the Radiological Protection Institute of Ireland is satisfied with the current reference level for radon gas in work places; his views on whether radon gas can be just as dangerous to the health of workers as the effects of passive smoking; if he has proposals for changing this level of the interests of workers; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27558/04]

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Fergus O'Dowd

Question:

30 Mr. O’Dowd asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government if the Radiological Protection Institute of Ireland directed any employer of self-employed person responsible for a workplace to measure radon levels in the workplace with regard to the Radiological Protection Act 1991 (Ionising Radiation) Order 2000 (SI 125 of 2000); and if so, the action taken. [27560/04]

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John Bruton

Question:

35 Mr. J. Bruton asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the number of local authorities, Departments, State and semi-State bodies which carried out inspections in high radon areas; the actions carried as a result; if he and the Radiological Protection Institute are satisfied regarding same; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27575/04]

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Michael Ring

Question:

92 Mr. Ring asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the views of the Radiological Protection Institute of Ireland to a directive of the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act 1989 (details supplied); if the inspections have been carried out to his and the institute’s satisfaction; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27594/04]

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Paul McGrath

Question:

102 Mr. P. McGrath asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the number of workplaces which have assessed their exposure to radon gas; his and the Radiological Protection Institute’s views on whether statutory effect should be given to ensure that all workplaces carry out this assessment; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27559/04]

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Written answers (Question to Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 22, 30, 35, 92, and 102 together.

The exposure of workers in Ireland to radon gas in the workplace is subject to regulatory control set out in the Radiological Protection Act 1991 (Ionising Radiation) Order 2000. This order implements the 1996 EU basic safety standards directive laying down standards for the protection of workers and the general public from exposure to ionising radiation. The Radiological Protection Institute of Ireland, RPII, is responsible for its enforcement in Ireland.

The order specifies a radon concentration reference level for workplaces of 400 becquerels per cubic metre, Bq/m3, averaged over a minimum period of three months. Under the order, employers are required to carry out radon measurements of their workplaces when directed to do so by the RPII. Where workplaces are found to have concentrations greater than the reference level, employers must evaluate whether remedial action to reduce the radon concentration to less than 400 Bq/m3 is justified.

The radon concentration reference level for workplaces in Ireland is consistent with that set in many other EU states, including the UK, Sweden, Finland and Denmark. This reference level is lower than that set in other EU states such as Greece, Italy, Hungary and the Czech Republic where the reference levels range from 500 to 1000 Bq/m3. The Irish reference level is also lower than that suggested by other international bodies such as the International Commission for Radiological Protection.

The RPII is satisfied that the current reference level is appropriate and consistent with best international practice and has no plans to bring forward recommendations for its change. The RPII estimates that approximately 150 to 200 deaths per annum are attributable to radon gas, whereas about 7,000 deaths in Ireland each year are attributable to tobacco related illness.

My Department understands that there are no statistics that specifically compare the risks of passive smoking and radon gas exposure. However, when radon gas is detected, ventilation and remediation measures can significantly mitigate any detrimental effects of the gas.

Under the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act 1989, employers are required to identify hazards arising in the workplace, assess the risks arising from those hazards and put in place measures to eliminate or control the risks which arise. The Health and Safety Authority has stated that, under the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act 1989, all indoor workplaces in high radon areas must have radon measurements carried out.

Under the order made in 2000, the RPII has powers to direct employers or self-employed person responsible for workplaces falling within the scope of the order to carry out radon measurements. On receipt of a direction, an employer or self-employed person has six months to comply with the direction and carry out a radon measurement. There are currently three radon measurement laboratories approved under the order of 2000 to carry out radon measurements in workplaces. Of these the RPII is the largest.

During 2001 and 2002 the RPII issued some 3,000 directions to employers in Tralee and Ennis. Both these areas had been identified in previous surveys as being located in a high radon area. However, the response to these directions was disappointing when only 408 employers carried out radon measurements. The RPII have again directed some of these employers to carry out radon measurements.

Employers were given six months to respond to the directives and this period elapses in December 2004 and January 2005. After this period the RPII expects to seek prosecutions against those employers who have failed to comply with the direction to carry out a radon measurement.

The RPII is working closely with the State Claims Agency on its efforts to promote awareness of radon among State employers. An initiative was launched in January this year entitled Radon Risk in State Buildings initiative. State employers have reacted positively to this initiative, and many State employers have either completed or are currently carrying out radon measurements either with the RPII or one of the other approved radon measurement laboratories.

To date, the RPII has carried out radon measurements on behalf of the Department of Education and Science in over 4,500 schools and other workplaces in the country. For those workplaces where high levels are found the RPII is satisfied that measures are being applied to reduce the radon concentrations in accordance with the legislation.

Both the Health and Safety Authority and the RPII take measures to inform employers and the public about radon gas. The RPII will be holding the third in a series of national radon fora in Dublin in November to raise awareness of radon as a health risk. Both the RPII and my Department will continue to use appropriate opportunities to raise public awareness of radon and to implement the provisions of the order working closely in harmony with the Health and Safety Authority.