Millard Consulting have recently been providing risk assessment and remediation advice on radon to one of the country’s biggest social housing groups. We have provided a range of services, from organising a bulk radon monitoring program, to evaluating property types and detailing remedial options.
What’s the Problem with radon?
Radon is a colourless, odourless gas, which is constantly being emitted by the radioactive decay of naturally occurring Uranium in rock and soil. While it is present everywhere, there are parts of the country where it occurs in higher concentrations due to the type of rock and soil. Radon is hazardous because it is radioactive. Though the radiation it emits travels very short distances it becomes a problem if it is regularly breathed in. This kind of exposure happens when radon enters houses and it has been shown in public health research to be the second most common cause of lung cancer.
What Is Being Done About Radon?
Radon was first identified as a manageable risk in homes back in 1990 when the UK government began to identify affected areas. It was soon made a requirement that new buildings be provided with protection to keep exposure levels below an Action Level of 200 Bq/m3.
More recently the whole process of radon risk assessment has gone online, with the release of revised and more detailed mapping in 2011, accurate to a 1km square. Radon reports accurate down to 25m squares can be purchased and downloaded for £3.90 per house.
Publication of the more detailed mapping has identified many more “affected areas” than previously known. Since radon protection is contained within the Building Regulations, Technical Standards, Millard are regularly involved in screening for radon risks during the structural certification process. This ensures that appropriate protection measures are identified where necessary during new building. However what about existing buildings in affected areas?
In England the issue of radon risk is addressed in a Sellers Property Information form (TA6) which solicitors asks the seller to complete during conveyancing. This form produced by the Law Society, has not been promulgated in Scotland, where the Home Report system includes a similar questionnaire that omits to ask about radon. If you want to make sure your house purchase is not affected it is easy to check in the online mapping. If it is you may want to ask your solicitor to include radon in their conveyancing searches.
What Is a Radon Affected Area?
The mapping classifies areas of land by radon potential. That is the likelihood of radon exposure above the Action Level. The Technical Standards require radon protection for building in a “radon affected area”, which in Scotland, is any area with >1% chance of radon above the Action Level.
Awareness is slowly on the increase, however, many existing houses are now to be found within “radon affected areas”. Furthermore, while the Action Level was set at 200 Bq/m3 a Target Level of 100 Bq/m3 has also been set. Public Health England (PHE represents the whole of UK) advise that the Action Level is a threshold above which all householders are advised to remediate, while reducing radon exposure to below the Target Level is the remediation objective, to reduce lung cancer risks.
What to do if your property is in an “affected area”?
The first step is to undertake radon monitoring. In response to the map’s publication, the Scottish Government announced free testing for homeowners in areas with a five percent chance or more of houses being above the Action Level. Every property is built differently and the amount of radon that can enter and accumulate to hazardous levels varies significantly depending on how a property is built and used. PHE will post out a domestic pack with two little plastic detectors, instructions for completing the three months monitoring and a return envelope so the detectors can be analysed. The radon report issued by PHE will inform you what level of protection is needed, if any.
The PHE provides advice for landlords and property portfolio managers on risk evaluation and management. Millard are currently engaged as radon advisors by a social housing group, who are taking action as a responsible landlord. We are coordinating the evaluation and management of radon risks in a large number of properties, which involves liaising with laboratories, evaluating monitoring results and remedial options.
Employers have a responsibility under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 and the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999, which require employers as far as reasonably practicable to ensure the health and safety of employees and other people who have access to their work environment, for instance members of the public in shops and schools. This includes a suitable and sufficient risk assessment, and taking appropriate action where necessary. PHE advise that radon should be identified as a hazard if you have a workplace building in a radon affected area or it has a basement area that is occupied for more than about 50 hours each year. The Action Level for workplaces is 400Bq/m3.
What to do if your property has radon above the Action Level?
There is plenty of guidance on fitting radon protection and a wide range of protection measures available, offering varying degrees of protection. If you are constructing a new build property, radon protection should now be part of the standards and is affordable and easily installed. For existing property Millard can help you work out what protection measures would be best suited to your property and advise on its installation. Depending on the levels and the building construction this may range from draught proofing to increasing ventilation. It is recommended that monitoring is repeated after installation of protection, to confirm the success of the measures. Costs of protection typically range between £500 and £2000.