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Publication of New Radon Maps for Scotland

23rd April 2009

The Highland Council has promised to work with the UK Health Protection Agency (HPA) and NHS Highland to develop a programme of action to help Highland residents, whose homes have been identified as having high levels of the naturally occurring radioactive gas, radon.

The move follows the publication by the Scottish Parliament of new radon maps for Scotland produced by the HPA. Highland is one of 16 local authorities in Scotland which has areas with a presence of radon exceeding the level which requires action to remedy the problem.

Helmsdale is identified as a location requiring specific action to reduce the presence of radon gas while settlements near Invergarry and between Tomatin and Aviemore also feature on the new map. In an earlier survey in 1993, Helmsdale was identified as a radon affected area.

Radon occurs in all rocks and most soils and while quickly diluted if it escapes into the air it can get trapped inside buildings and, over time, exposure can increase the risk of lung cancer.

HPA recommends that action should be taken to reduce radon levels in houses where the radon concentration is measured at or above the Action Level of 200 becquerels per cubic metre Bq m-3.

The HPA says testing for radon is straightforward process. Two small detectors are placed in a house for three months after which they are sent for analysis. Where a high level of radon is present, steps can be taken to reduce the level, normally by increasing the ventilation under a suspended floor or sucking out the radon from under a solid floor, using a fan. The cost of remedial work is usually in the range 500 - 2,000.

People living in radon affected areas will be offered a free radon test, to be organised by the HPA, as part of a phased programme of help, advice and training from the Scottish Government.

Councillor John Laing, Chairman of the Council's Transport, Environmental and Community Works Committee, said the Council, together with partners in the NHS and the HPA, will immediately examine the findings of this review and will identify properties in the affected areas in order that the full implications of the findings may be considered. He said: "Protecting public health is one of the Council's main roles. Having this information will enable us to take appropriate measures to protect and advise those people living and working in the affected areas."

Alistair Thomson, Head of Environmental Health and Trading Standards, The Highland Council, said: "There is no need for any immediate concern. There is no acute risk from radon. Any risk is due to long-term exposure. We will assist with the proposed testing regime which should alleviate concerns in many cases. In cases where test results show levels to be unsatisfactory we will offer guidance and advice on measures to deal with the problem. We may also be able to offer Housing Grants for any works required."

Dr. Ken Oates, Consultant in Public Health Medicine, NHS Highland, said, "I welcome this initiative by the Health Protection Agency and The Highland Council to raise awareness about the potential health effects of radon gas and then to take action to reduce it in high risk homes and other properties. Lung cancer still kills far too many people in Scotland every year. The most important measure people can take to prevent lung cancer is to stop smoking but other measures, such as reducing high levels of radon in their home, are also well worth doing."

Radon is a naturally occurring radioactive gas. You cannot see, hear, feel or taste it. It comes from the tiny amounts of uranium that occur naturally in all rocks and soils. Radon is present in all parts of the UK. The gas disperses outdoors so levels are generally very low. Each individual breathes it in throughout their lives and for most UK residents, radon accounts for half of their total annual radiation dosage. However, geological conditions in certain areas, including some parts of the Highlands, can lead to higher than average levels. Exposure to high levels of radon, over a long period may increase the risk of developing lung cancer.

The HPA map contains radon probability maps, which give an overview of radon affected areas in Scotland based on 5-km squares on the national grid. The complete report will be available as a free download (PDF) on the HPA website http://www.hpa.org.uk

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