Radiation - Radon
What is Radon?
Radon is a radioactive gas that occurs naturally. It has no taste, smell or colour and special devices are needed to detect it.
Radon is everywhere, usually at levels that pose negligible risk.
The first thing everyone should know is that even in areas the government has identified as affected by radon, most homes do not have a radon problem. However, some do - but in affected houses the problem of radon can usually be tackled with simple, effective and relatively inexpensive measures.
Where does Radon come from?
When uranium decays, it becomes radium, and when radium decays, it becomes radon. Uranium is found in small quantities in all soil and rocks, but amounts vary from place to place. There can be marked variations even over small areas, and may be different levels of radon between neighbouring buildings.
Radon rises from the soil into the air; outdoors, radon is diluted and the risk it poses is negligible. When it is confined to enclosed spaces, however, concentrations can build up.
Is Radon dangerous?
It should be emphasised that when the radon concentration is high, it does pose a serious risk to your health. Radioactive decay of radon forms particles. If you breathe these in they may damage lung tissue. Many health studies around the world have linked radon with lung cancer.
What is the Action Level of Radon?
People who are exposed to high levels of radon are more likely to get lung cancer. However, you can take easy, cheap and permanent steps to bring down a house's indoor radon level to an acceptable level of risk.
Radon levels are measured in Becquerels per cubic metre (Bqm-3). The government have set the action level in the UK at 200 Bqm-3 for dwellings and 400Bqm-3 for work places.
What Should be Done by People in Affected Areas?
The Government recommends that people in affected areas test their homes for Radon. There is a postal test offered by the Health Protection Agency (HPA) that involves monitoring radon in the home with simple, safe devices for a period of three months. The test costs around £30, including VAT, for two detectors and anyone can order it. The analysis is carried out by the HPA and the results are sent back to the property owner.
The Government, the HPA and the Building Research Establishment (BRE) all recommend that if householders find indoor radon levels above the Action Level they should take radon reduction measures as soon as practical - and then take the test again to give themselves peace of mind.
How Does Radon Enter Property and Ways to Get Rid of it
It is best to stop radon entering the house or, if that is not practical, to try to remove it if it gets in. The aim in both cases should be to reduce indoor radon levels to significantly below the Action Level.
There are five main ways to reduce radon levels:
- Install a radon sump system
- Improve ventilation under suspended timber floors
- Use positive ventilation in your house
- Seal cracks and gaps in solid concrete floors
- Change the way your house is ventilated
Buying or Selling a House in a Radon Affected Area?
For a property sale in a radon-affected area, the best way for both buyer and seller to approach the radon problem is openly and straightforwardly. If a house hasn’t been tested for Radon, it might seem that deciding on a fair price will prove complicated.
However, there are some simple solutions to the problems:
- Ask if the house has been tested
- Sellers are not legally obliged to volunteer the information they know, but if you ask for it they must give it - so if the house has been tested the seller will tell you. Ask to see the letter giving the result.
- If the house has not been tested you should take the radon test soon after you move. Test results can vary according to the householders' lifestyles. Even if more than three months are left before the present occupants move out, it may be better that you volunteer to take the test.
How do I Arrange a Price with the Seller?
No seller should be asked to accept a lower price for a house just because it is in a radon affected area - or if his or her radon level has tested below the Action Level. However, if the radon level has tested above the action level, buyer and seller should agree a fair price reduction to reflect reasonable costs, not the most expensive possible solution.
The more difficult the case is when the radon levels are not known at the time of the sale. The BRE favours the radon bond as a solution to this problem and it has proved popular with buyers and sellers. A sum of money will be set aside from the sale until a radon test has been carried out. The radon bond should be discussed with the solicitor.
Information can be obtained by using the following links: