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Friday, 4 May, 2001, 15:04 GMT 16:04 UK
Homeowners unaware of radon risks
Radon gas is a 'health hazard'

Several thousand people in Northern Ireland live in houses which increase the risk of contracting lung cancer, according to health experts.

It is thought about 60 lung cancer deaths every year in Northern Ireland are caused by the effects of radon gas.

A year ago Marlene Hadden from Kilkeel in County Down accepted a government invitation to have her house tested to analyse the levels of radon.

She was unaware she lived in an area where there was a high level of the gas, which was seeping out of the soil and the rocks in her garden.

Marlene Hadden: Unaware of high levels
Marlene Hadden: Unaware of high levels

She said: "Because radon is odourless and tasteless I didn't realise what it entailed."

Her home's radon level is normal after she had a special pump fitted to her home.

Northern Ireland's Chief Medical Officer, Dr Henrietta Campbell, said people living in areas with high levels of radon need to get their homes tested.

She said: "It doesn't devalue the cost of your home, but what you can do is put in place simple measures which will reduce the level of radon in your home.

"For your own safety and that of your children you need to know what the risk is."

Northern Ireland has a low radon level compared to other parts of the United Kingdom.

It is prevalent in mountainous areas.

Anyone can have their house tested for radon levels by contacting their own council or the Department of Environment.

Environmental risk

Last year a major study of the effect of long-term exposure to radon gas in the home produced compelling evidence that it increases the risk of developing lung cancer.

A US research team said they carried out the most sophisticated analysis of exposure to the naturally-occurring gas ever attempted.

They concluded that it presents a "significant environmental health risk".

The findings are in line with a 1998 investigation by the Imperial Cancer Research Fund which found that 1,800 of the 37,000 a year deaths from lung cancer in the UK are directly linked to radon.

Special vents can be built for radon

The four-year US study focused on 1,027 women - 413 had been newly diagnosed with lung cancer, and the rest were healthy.

Radon is an odourless, tasteless and colourless radioactive gas produced by the breakdown of radium in soil, rock and water.

Equipment is available that can suck away radon gas as it emerges from the ground, so that it does not contaminate buildings.

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