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Radon-related lung cancer statistics may be revised

The research, due to be published in September, is currently being collated following a survey of 700 Irish homes.

Radon is a known carcinogen and is linked to up to 250 cases of lung cancer in Ireland annually.

However, Senior Scientist at the EPA Ms Stephanie Long believes this figure may be revised downwards as smoking rates and the average radon level have fallen in Ireland in recent years.

According to Ms Long, the figure of 250 radon-related lung cancers per year is based on the average radon level of 89Bq/m3 from a survey of 11,000 Irish homes conducted in the 1990s. 

However, this dropped following a survey in 2015 to 77Bq/m3. The fall is thought to be due to changes in building regulations in 1998 enforcing the use of radon barriers and sumps in new buildings in high-radon areas.

The research relates to a population-weighted average survey of 700 carefully chosen homes, taking account of where the main population centres are located. It will allow the EPA to calculate the current number of radon-related lung cancers, Ms Long advised.

“Hopefully it will come down. The number of lung cancers is very much complicated by smoking rates, because smoking predominates the risk and smoking rates have fallen,” Ms Long noted.

“The lag time — the latency period for lung cancer — is about 15 years. What we see now will reflect smoking rates 15 or 20 years ago. It takes a long time for the effect to trickle down.

“What we’re hoping to see is that there will have been a reduction in radon-related lung cancers.”

The data is based on research undertaken with the assistance of University College Dublin statistician Dr Patrick Murphy.

Ms Long said the EPA would meet with public health officials from the HSE in the coming months to examine how to interpret the data.

Statistics from the HSE National Tobacco Control Office showed that smoking rates in Ireland fell from 21.5 per cent in 2013 to 19.5 per cent in 2014. In 2003, some 28 per cent of the population were smokers. 

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