Radon prevention and remediation: The RADPAR Recommendations

John Bartzis, Hannu Arvela, Francesco Bochicchio, Jane Bradley, Bernard Collignan, David Fenton, Ivana Fojtikova, Alastair Gray, Bernd Grosche, Martha Gruson, Olli Holmgren, Jiri Hulka, Martin Jiranek, Krystallia Kalimeri, Stylianos Kephalopoulos, Michaela Kreuzer, James Mc Laughlin, Wolfgang Ringer, Katerina Rovenska, Dieter Schlesinger, Gennaro Venoso, Hajo Zeeb

Radon (222Rn) is a naturally occurring radioactive gas. It constitutes the most important source of radiation exposure in many homes, schools, working places. Excluding radiotherapy doses and radiation accidents radon is the largest and most variable contributor to the average annual radiation dose received by the world population. IARC (International Agency for Research on Cancer) classified it as a Group 1 human carcinogen in 1988, while the WHO (World Health Organization) considers it to be the second cause of lung cancer after cigarette smoking.

In the European Union lung cancer death is the most common cause (circa 20%) of total cancer deaths. For 2006, it is estimated that 236,000 lung cancer deaths occurred in the EU 25, with the majority of these being due to active cigarette smoking. On the basis of the 2005 pooling analysis of 13 large residential radon epidemiological studies in nine EU countries involving approximately 7000 persons with lung cancer and 14000 without lung cancer it was estimated that about 9% of lung cancer deaths may be due to radon exposure in the home. Based on these epidemiological studies it is estimated that in 2006, in the EU 25, about 21,000 lung cancer deaths were due to radon exposure.

These observations have important implications for policy makers in the EU formulating policies and strategies aimed at managing the lung cancer risk from indoor radon. Apart from building technology aspects, there are a number of different strategies that can be adopted at a national level to control indoor radon with the objective of reducing the lung cancer risk associated with long term radon exposure.

Radon levels in homes are controllable by various building technology options, such as, the installation of active radon sumps and radon proof membranes in the foundations of houses. While radon levels in high radon homes should be reduced, it is more cost-effective at a national level to adopt building regulation strategies aimed at reducing the average radon levels in new houses below the current national average level. In the case of radon risk communication programmes, however, information on the exacerbation of the lung cancer risk in smokers by radon exposure should be emphasized. The RADPAR (Radon Prevention and Remediation) project is part of the Second Programme of Community Action in the Field of Health and within the aegis of the Executive Agency for Health and Consumers (EAHC), of Directorate General SANCO. It is focused on a number of issues related to indoor radon exposure as a public health problem within the framework of EU Member States (MS).

The RADPAR project aims were to:

  • Accurately assess the health burden to the general population from exposure to radon;
  • Improve radon prevention and remediation strategies that are currently in place;
  • Develop radon risk communication strategies and approaches for different population target groups in the EU;
  • Propose standardized measurement procedures for radon sources and control technologies;
  • Assess the cost-effectiveness of existing and potential radon prevention and remediation strategies in the EU
  • Improve the effectiveness of radon control strategies through the design and use of training courses for radon measurement, prevention, remediation and cost-effectiveness analysis;
  • Assess the potential conflicts between energy conservation in buildings, and reduction in radon exposure.

The results and recommendations of the RADPAR Project are intended and expected to be used to tailor future communications on radon risk to the public and decision makers. Also they are expected to help pave the way towards a scientifically based development of a harmonized radon policy and legislation in European countries. An important aspect of RADPAR is the transfer of its results and recommendations to new and accession Member States, where strategies to reduce radon exposures are presently almost nonexistent.

The Project Steering Committee

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