I propose to take Questions Nos. 69, 85, 106, 124 and 790 together.
It is not possible to ascribe any individual death directly to exposure to radon, particularly as a recent European study published in the British Medical Journal on 21 December 2004 shows that the risk of contracting lung cancer from radon is 25 times greater for smokers. However, the Radiological Protection Institute of Ireland estimates that about 10% to 15% of all lung cancer deaths in Ireland may be linked to radon. This equates to about 150 to 200 lung cancer deaths annually.
The Government has in recent years, largely through the Radiological Protection Institute of Ireland, RPII, committed significant resources to assessing the extent of the radon problem throughout the country and to increasing public awareness of radon. In addition, my Department, in June 1997, introduced upgraded building regulations which required all new houses which commenced construction on or after 1 July 1998 to incorporate radon protection measures at the time of construction. In October 2004, my Department published an updated edition of technical guidance document C on part C of the building regulations — site preparation and resistance to moisture — incorporating enhanced radon prevention measures for new buildings commencing on or after 1 April 2005. This new guidance document is aimed at ensuring that the 1997 radon protection measures are carried out more effectively.
The updated technical guidance document also recommends, but does not require, that radon levels be measured after completion and occupation of new buildings to verify that the radon levels are below the national reference level of 200 becquerels per cubic metre, Bq/m3. I do not, however, propose to make such measurements mandatory and my Department is not aware of any equivalent mandatory requirement in building regulations within the EU or elsewhere.
I am aware that the institute has published the results of radon surveys undertaken by it of a number of houses in Kilkenny built before and after July 1998 when the updated 1997 regulations standards came into effect. The most recent survey, in Kilkenny, showed that of the 33 post-July 1998 built houses surveyed, three, or 10%, had radon concentrations above the national reference level, including one which had radon concentrations of over seven times the reference level. However, the survey results also showed a reduction of some 33% in the average radon concentrations in the post-July 1998 built houses compared with the average concentration for houses surveyed by the institute under its national radon survey in the earlier part of that decade.
While the recent survey results from the institute demonstrate the positive impact of the radon preventative measures required under the 1997 building regulations, they also demonstrate that the building regulations alone are not a guarantee that houses are completely protected against radon. The enhanced radon prevention measures for new houses, which I announced last October and which call for radon sump outlets to be clearly identified, should help to further raise awareness among householders and the building industry.
There are no plans to introduce a countrywide programme to test the radon levels in all homes in the State. A major nationwide radon survey was undertaken by the institute in the 1990s. In all, over 11,000 houses were measured. Of these, about 9% had radon concentration above the national reference level. On the basis of this survey, the RPII has estimated that about 91,000 houses or 7% of the national housing stock would have radon concentration above the reference level.
The institute is concerned that only a little over 3,000 of the 91,000 houses in the country estimated to have radon concentration above the reference level have been identified. Therefore, within the past 12 months, the institute has been intensifying its campaign to further heighten public awareness of radon. The institute's new initiatives have included publishing a booklet entitled Understanding Radon — A Householder's Guide and the production of an information poster for display in public places such as libraries, medical centres and so forth. In addition, the institute has recently embarked on a series of nationwide public information seminars which will be targeted at selected high radon areas. These seminars have received widespread media coverage and have generated a large number of inquiries from the public.
There are positive indications that the institute's radon awareness programmes are impacting on the public. I understand that in 2004 the number of requests for radon measurements received by the institute from householders was almost 3,000, which was more than the combined total for the previous three years. Testing of domestic dwellings for radon is straightforward and inexpensive, approximately €40 per home. I urge householders, particular those in high radon areas, to check their house for radon concentrations and carry out remediation work if recommended to do so.
Both my Department and the institute will continue to use all appropriate opportunities to raise public awareness on the dangers of radon and every effort will continue to be directed at improving information to householders so as to enable them to address monitoring or remedial requirements effectively and economically.