The Ionising Radiation Regulations 1999, also apply to work with natural radiation, including work in which people are exposed to naturally occurring radon gas and its decay products.

So what is radon?

Radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer in the UK. Radon Gas is a naturally occurring radioactive gas that can seep out of the ground and build up in houses and indoor workplaces. Radon is a gas produced from the decay of the elements uranium, thorium, and radium in rocks and soil ,naturally occurring element in the earth’s crust. Radon is radioactive, emitting harmful alpha radiation when it decays.

Radon is present in outdoor and indoor air, usually in small amounts. We breathe it in and out all the time. If a radon atom decays while inside our lungs, the alpha radiation released may damage lung cells. This has the potential to cause lung cancer. It is estimated that circa 2000 people die prematurely every year from radon exposure, just in England and Wales, it is estimated that over 360 of these deaths are caused to radon in the workplace.

Radon gets into buildings through a variety of routes, including directly through floors or walls in contact with soil or through the water or gas supply. It can also enter the building through the materials used within the structure.

Where is it?

Radon is known to be associated with rocks and soils which include granite and shale. The probability of encountering high radon levels has been mapped for the UK in the ‘Indicative Radon Atlas’. Shaded parts of the radon atlas are classed as ‘Radon Affected Areas’. It is important to remember that the ‘Radon Atlas’ is indicative; the only way to know if radon is present is to test for it. Studies have shown that the importation of contaminated rocks in to the sub-base of buildings are a major factor in the contribution to radon gas. The highest levels are usually found in underground spaces such as basements, caves and mines. High concentrations are also found in ground floor buildings because they are usually at slightly lower pressure than the surrounding atmosphere; this allows radon from the subsoil underneath buildings to enter through cracks and gaps in the floor. All workplaces including factories, offices, shops, classrooms, nursing homes, residential care homes and health centres can be affected. Whilst employers who only occupy parts of buildings from the first floor and above are unlikely to have significant radon levels, employers who use cellars, basements and poorly ventilated ground floor rooms are far more likely to have problems with radon levels.

Properties with basements are also at increased risk, regardless of geographic location, as the basement has several surface areas in contact with the ground through which the gas can permeate.

There are no types of indoor ground floor workplace in which the radon can assumed always to be low because of ventilation or working conditions. It is not, however, generally necessary to measure above the ground floor. The number of monitors required for each building depends on the workplace type and use.
Radioactive particles from radon can damage cells that line the lungs and lead to lung cancer.


» Scientific Research


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How does radon cause cancer?

Radon decays quickly, giving off tiny radioactive particles. When inhaled, these radioactive particles can damage the cells that line the lung. Long-term exposure to radon can lead to lung cancer, the only cancer proven to be associated with inhaling radon. There has been reports to suggest the link of increased risk of leukemia associated with radon exposure in adults and children;

How many people develop lung cancer because of exposure to radon?

Cigarette smoking is the most common cause of lung cancer. 
Radon represents a far smaller risk for this disease, but it is the second leading cause of lung cancer in the uk.
Exposure to the combination of radon gas and cigarette smoke creates a greater risk of lung cancer than exposure to either factor alone. The majority of radon-related cancer deaths occur among smokers. However, it is estimated that more than 10 percent of radon-related cancer deaths occur among non-smokers.
How did scientists discover that radon plays a role in the development of lung cancer?
Radon was identified as a health problem when scientists noted that underground uranium miners who were exposed to it died of lung cancer at high rates. The results of miner studies have been confirmed by experimental animal studies, which show higher rates of lung tumors among rodents exposed to high radon levels.

What have scientists learned about the relationship between radon and lung cancer?

Scientists agree that radon causes lung cancer in humans. Recent research has focused on specifying the effect of residential radon on lung cancer risk. In these studies, scientists measure radon levels in the homes of people who have lung cancer and compare them to the levels of radon in the homes of people who have not developed lung cancer.

Researchers have combined and analyzed data from all radon studies. By combining the data from these studies, scientists were able to analyze data from thousands of people. The results of this analysis demonstrated a slightly increased risk of lung cancer for individuals with elevated exposure to household radon. This increased risk was consistent with the estimated level of risk based on studies of underground miners.

Techniques to measure a person’s exposure to radon over time have become more precise, thanks to a number of studies carried out in the 1990s and early 2000s.
Smokers who are exposed to radon appear to be at even greater risk for lung cancer, because the effects of smoking and radon are more powerful when the two factors are combined.

The basic data for the European pooling study makes it impossible to exclude that such synergy effect is an explanation for the (very limited) increase in the risk from radon that was stated for non-smokers. 

A study from 2001, which included 436 cases (never smokers who had lung cancer), and a control group (1649 never smokers) showed that exposure to radon increased the risk of lung cancer in never smokers.

But the group that had been exposed to passive smoking at home appeared to bear the entire risk increase, while those who were not exposed to passive smoking did not show any increased risk with increasing radon level.

This result needs confirmation by additional studies. Despite the startling results from 2001, new studies seem not to have been implemented.


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