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What Is Radon?

Radon gas is a naturally occurring radioactive gas, which can enter your home from the ground, exposing you to doses of radiation. According to the National Radiological Protection Board (NRPB), health studies from around the world have linked exposure to Radon to the increased risk of lung cancer.

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How Does It Occur?

Radon is a  radioactive gas. You cannot see, smell or taste radon, but it may be a problem in your home. It was discovered by English physicist Ernest Rutherford in 1899 and can only be detected using specialist equipment. 

The radioactive elements formed by the decay of radon can be inhaled and enter our lungs. Inside the lungs, these elements continue to decay and emit radiation, most importantly alpha particles. These are absorbed by the nearby lung tissues and cause localised damage. This damage can lead to lung cancer. The radon level in the air we breathe outside is very low but can be higher inside buildings.

Believe it or not, Radon is a naturally occurring gas. Small amounts of uranium are found in most rocks and soils, as the uranium decays it produces radium which in turn as it decays, produces a new radioactive element - Radon.

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Is It Possible To Detect Radon?

Measuring radon could be seen as a difficult task. It is impossible to detect radon by sight, smell or taste. It has to be measured by detectors usually over a 3 month period. These are then analysed to determine if the level exceeds the UK Action Level for Radon in homes recommend by the Health Protection Agency on Radiation Protection and Measurements.

Indoor radon levels in houses vary substantially from day to day as they are influenced by weather conditions. The Action Level refers to the annual average concentration in a home. For this reason, it is preferred that radon measurements are carried out with two detectors (in a living area and bedroom) and are conducted over a reasonable period of time, typically three months. This averages out short-term fluctuations. Tests that are carried out over shorter periods will have greater uncertainty and are more likely to lead to ambiguous and inconclusive results.

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Am I in Danger of Radon?

Radon gas is measured in Becquerel’s per cubic metre and, according to UKradon (the UK’s reference site on radon from the Health Protection Agency), there is no 'average radon level' but the UK Action Level for Radon in Homes is at or above 200Bq m-3.

Every building contains radon but the levels are usually low. The chances of a higher level depend on the type of ground. Public Health England has published a map showing where high levels are more likely.

You can see the level of Radon in your area by using the Public Health England's interactive map. You can also order a Radon detector, like a carbon monoxide detector they can be placed on a shelf but they can be damaged by heat or submersion in water and should not be opened.

The darker the colour the greater the chance of a higher level. The chance is less than one home in a hundred in the white areas and greater than one in three in the darkest areas.

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What Are The Health Risks?

High levels of radon are dangerous, as radioactive particles in the air can become trapped in our airways, and continue to emit radiation, including dangerous alpha particles. The damage this causes to tissues increases the risk of lung cancer, with this risk going up as levels of radon and exposure times rise.

Radon is the number one cause of lung cancer among non-smokers, according to EPA estimates. Overall, radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer. Radon is responsible for about 21,000 lung cancer deaths every year. About 2,900 of these deaths occur among people who have never smoked. 

Most drinking water supplies have very low levels of radon. If your home uses the public water supply, any monitoring for radon is carried out by the water provider and you do not need to take any action.

Elevated radon levels can occur in private water supplies that come from groundwater sources such as wells, boreholes or springs. Public Health England and the Drinking Water Inspectorate have prepared the following advice for householders with private drinking water supplies.

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Landlord's Responsibility with Radon

Landlords have a responsibility to their tenants under Duty of Care and the Housing Act to provide a safe home.

Radon is identified as a potential hazard in dwellings in the Housing Act 2004. The need for action is defined by the Housing Health and Safety Rating System which applies a numerical score to the different hazards depending on their overall risk to the occupant. If the score exceeds certain trigger points the local housing authority (Local Authority) is obliged to act. The Local Authority will take the 'appropriate enforcement action' which is dependent on the severity of the risk. The measured annual average radon level is used to calculate the risk.

Landlord's Responsibility with Radon

Buying or Selling a Property in a Radon Affected Area

The issue of radon comes up when buying and selling properties. Anyone can find out if a property is in a radon Affected Area by completing an online search. The search will tell you the chance of that property having a high radon level.

Purchasing in a radon affected area?

  • Ask the current owners if they have completed a three month radon test
  • If so ask for a copy of the report
  • If not, discuss a retention with your solicitor and test when you move in.

Selling in a radon affected area?

  • If you have previously tested your property, find the result (Contact your test provider if necessary).
  • If you have not tested, the new owner will be advised to do so when they move in
  • You and your solicitor should be prepared to be asked about a retention.

What is a retention? 

A retention is a sum of money held back from the sale to help with remedial costs. The typical remediation cost is £1000. A typical retention sum is between £500 and £2000. The money is initially held by one of the solicitors for a period of six months, to allow time for moving in, the three month test, analysis and receipt of the report.

If the result is below the Action Level, the money goes to the seller. If the result is higher, the money pays for remedial works and a timescale is agreed to allow for the works and a further test. Any surplus money goes to the seller.

buying and selling property in radon affected areas

Radon Gas - The Facts

As the radioactive gas decays it produces another radioactive element called Radon progeny and this is where the problem arises.

The Radon progeny behave like solids and can attach themselves to dust particles in the air. We are all exposed to radiation from natural and man-made sources all the time.

Certain areas in the UK experience a higher amount of radon than others, such as Devon and Cornwall.  Properties found in these areas of radon concentration should look to reduce radon levels through remedial methods or ventilation, like positive input ventilation. 

Positive Input Ventilation (PIV) work as a whole house ventilation system and create fresh and healthy living environments by supplying fresh, filtered air into a property at a continuous rate throughout.

Positive ventilation brings fresh air into a home, and dilutes the radon. The flow of air and radon from the ground may also be reduced. A positive ventilation system can be effective in homes with radon levels up to and around 500 Bq m-3.

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