In a written answer to a parliamentary question from Llin Golding MP (Newcastle-under-Lyme), environment minister Michael Meacher said: 'Following the success of three pilot studies to encourage and assist householders to carry out radon remedial works, I am pleased to announce that we are embarking on a new programme in partnership with 31 local authorities from the areas most affected by radon.
'The radon measurement programme, carried out by successive governments since 1987, has meant that every home in England with a greater than 5% probability of being above the radon 'action level' has been offered a government-funded radon test. In total, some 40,000 homes have now been found to be above the radon action level.
However, only 10-20% of these households have taken any action to reduce radon levels in their homes. Radon is a naturally occurring, radioactive gas. Without proper action to lower levels in the home it can add to the risk of lung cancer.
householders, supported in the background by central government departments. The pilot studies have been very successful both in terms of the numbers of householders seeking advice and the numbers that have subsequently gone on to carry out remedial work. I should like to pay tribute to the enthusiasm, commitment and hard work of
the three local authorities involved.
'The 31 local authorities listed in the following table, which all have areas within their districts with notable levels of radon, responded to the department's invitation to work in partnership with us to extend the approach used in the pilot studies to other parts of the country.
'In order to assist these authorities, and others with a radon problem, we have produced a good practice guide based on the lessons learned and the experience gained in the pilot studies. This guidance has been made available in draft to all of the authorities involved in the new programme, and is being published today. I have arranged for copies to be deposited in the libraries of both Houses.'
A seminar was held last year to inform local authorities in England with some parts of their districts having a greater than 5% probability of being above the Action Level about the pilot studies. The pilot study local authorities and the department's consultants facilitating the pilot study programme gave presentations about the experience to date.
Following the seminar, the same local authorities were invited to work with DETR to 'roll-out' the lessons learned in the pilot studies to their districts. The 31 authorities listed in the table have indicated that they wish to participate in the new programme. This represents a large programme which is expected to run over a three year period.
The government's policy on radon in homes is guided by advice from the National Radiological Protection Board (NRPB). The Building Research Establishment Ltd (BRE) advises the department on remedial measures for existing dwellings. New homes are protected from radon through requirements of the building regulations in high radon areas.
Under the new programme, participating local authorities will have access to free measurements and expert advice on health issues and on remedial measures, as well as publicity materials provided centrally by the department, and the services of consultants contracted to facilitate the programme.
A number of factors determine whether or not radon accumulates in a building, including how a building is constructed and how it is used. The levels of radon found can vary markedly, even between adjacent homes.
The remedial measures used to reduce radon levels will depend upon the level of radon found, and on the way in which the home is constructed. Generally the range of possible remedies are straightforward and reasonably inexpensive. It may involved clearing or replacing existing air bricks or excavating a void or 'sump' under
the property coupled to pipework and a small fan to draw out the radon-laden air from under the home. None of the remedial measures involved should be unfamiliar to professional builders or specialist companies.
Radon is believed to be the second most important cause of lung cancer after smoking. The NRPB estimates that five per cent of lung cancer deaths in the UK are attributable to radon.
The UK action level is 200 becquerels per cubic metre of air (200 Bqm-3). This level equates to the European Commission's recommendation for new homes. The becquerel, named after the scientist who discovered radioactivity, is the number of atoms that
decay per second.
Local authorities not participating in the programme can obtain copies of the Good Practice Guide from the Radon Policy Branch, Radioactive Substances Division, DETR, Ashdown House, 123 Victoria Street, London SW1E 6DE; telephone 020 7944 6266; fax 020 7944 6289.
LOCAL AUTHORITIES PARTICIPATING IN DETR's RADON ROLL-OUT PROGRAMME
South Hams District Council
Torbay District Council
West Devon Borough Council
Bath and North East Somerset Unitary Authority
South Somerset District Council
North Dorset District Council
South Gloucestershire Unitary Authority
Stroud District Council
Corby Borough Council
Daventry District Council
East Northamptonshire District Council
Kettering Borough Council
Northampton Borough Council
South Northamptonshire District Council
Harborough District Council
Melton Borough Council
Rutland Unitary Authority
Huntingdonshire District Council
North Kesteven District Council
South Kesteven District Council
Oswestry Borough Council
South Shropshire District Council
High Peak Borough Council
Ashfield District Council
Staffordshire Moorlands District Council
South Lakeland District Council
Lancaster City Council
Craven District Council
Richmondshire District Council
Alnwick District Council
Berwick upon Tweed Borough Council