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People living in areas of high radon exposure at higher risk of lung cancer

The ESRI has linked cancer figures with geographical data on radon gas.

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Image: Pompaem Gogh via Shutterstock

LIVING IN AN area with a high level of radon exposure increases the risk of lung cancer diagnosis, according to new research.

The study by the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) finds this is the case even after accounting for other risk factors that could influence an individual’s likelihood of lung cancer diagnoses, such as smoking history, age and gender.

Exposure to radon gas is thought to be the second most important cause of lung cancer worldwide after smoking.

The research, commissioned by the Environmental Protection Agency, links data from more than 5,000 people aged over 50 in Ireland from the Irish Longitudinal Study on Ageing with data on radon exposure risk provided by EPA.

Radon can intrude into houses from underground or from certain building materials.

EPA has an online “risk map“, which splits Ireland into a grid and breaks down the areas most at risk of radon exposure by a colour code.

A high radon area is any area where it is predicted that 10% or more of homes will exceed the reference level of 200 becquerels per cubic metre. This is the point above which action should be taken to lessen the effects of radon exposure.

Capture EPA's Radon Map Source: EPA

The researchers found that lung cancer diagnosis is more prevalent in areas where 10 to 20% of houses are above the national reference point.

People in these areas are three times more likely to have a lung cancer diagnosis than people in areas were less than 1% of houses are above the reference point.

However, the study didn’t find an increased risk of lung cancer diagnosis in areas with the highest level of radon exposure.

Areas where the risk of radon is highest – where more than 20% of houses are above the national reference point – don’t have the highest odds of lung cancer, according to the researchers.

This does, however, suggest that households in these areas may have reduced their risk by protecting their homes.

“It is already known that 250 lung cancer deaths in Ireland every year can be attributed to radon exposure,” Anne Nolan of the ESRI said.

“This research emphasises that people should not be complacent about the risk of radon exposure. Measures should be taken to ensure that people in areas of high radon exposure are aware of the risk and know how to mitigate it.”

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