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New European Standards Set for Radon Management

BSS RadonA new directive to safeguard people against the effects of radiation, including radon, has been introduced by the European Union.
The Basic Safety Standards (2013/59/EURATOM) were published in the official Journal of the European Union in January and “lay down basic safety standards for protection against the dangers arising from exposure to ionising radiation”.

The directive requires all member states to put plans into action so that the required standards are achieved by February 2018. Several of the requirements, such as the setting of national ‘action levels’ and publication of building regulations to protect new buildings from radon already exist in the UK, however the main changes that are likely to be seen in this country are an increase in enforcement (e.g. of workplace radon testing) and an increase in awareness-raising activity.

Each member state is required to create a ‘national action plan’ for dealing with radon. Below are a number of considerations included in the directive that should be taken into account in the plan:

  • Identification of types of workplaces and buildings with public access, such as schools, underground workplaces, and those in certain areas, where measurements are required, on the basis of a risk assessment, considering for instance occupancy hours.
  • The basis for the establishment of reference levels for dwellings and workplaces. If applicable, the basis for the establishment of different reference levels for different uses of buildings (dwellings, buildings with public access, workplaces) as well as for existing and for new buildings.
  • Assignment of responsibilities (governmental and non-governmental), coordination mechanisms and available resources for implementation of the action plan.
  • Strategy for reducing radon exposure in dwellings
  • Strategies for facilitating post construction remedial action.
  • Strategy, including methods and tools, for preventing radon ingress in new buildings, including identification of building materials with significant radon exhalation.
  • Strategy for communication to increase public awareness and inform local decision makers, employers and employees of the risks of radon
  • Long-term goals in terms of reducing lung cancer risk attributable to radon exposure
  • Where appropriate, consideration of other related issues and corresponding programmes such as programmes on energy saving and indoor air quality.

The final point relating to consideration of other issues such as energy saving measures has recently been addressed by research published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ). A modelling study demonstrated that the introduction of energy-saving measures such as increased insulation and air-tightness would lead to the average radon concentration in UK homes increasing by more than 50%. In turn, this could result in an additional 278 lung cancer deaths each year, highlighting the need for a balanced approach between achieving improved environmental performance without increasing risk to human health.

The Irish government published its National Radon Control Strategy in February.