Health risks from
radon in houses and other buildings
Advice on how to reduce radon levels in buildings
The scope of this website is indicated on the index page and on the site layout page. The history of the website is given on a separate page.
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This section of SeeRed comprises a slightly edited version of the author's Handbook of Radon, first published in 1992. A few paper copies are still available (order from any bookseller quoting ISBN 0 9519825 0 8 or direct by email). The handbook sold originally in 23 countries and remains one of the most lucid explanations of radon in housing and other buildings. It was distributed in North America by Medical Physics Publishing of Wisconsin.
This internet edition has now been made freely available in the public interest. Some additional background material will be published.
In preparing this internet edition, no updating of the scientific text has yet been undertaken - the position as outlined is as it was in 1992. However, in reality, little has changed in 15 years. Nevertheless, care must be taken to ensure that before any advice is acted upon it is checked to be in accordance with the latest local or national legal requirements.
As this section of SeeRed is developed, more material will be added to explain in greater detail the 'politics' that were played out at public expense between the National Radiological Board (NRPB) and the Department of Environment (DoE) during the late 1980s and early 1990s in the UK. It is largely a story of petty-minded bureaucracy, turf wars and 'jobs for the boys'. The history of the Handbook is outlined here.
Most of the key players at the time are now either dead or safely retired. The UK's Building Research Establishment (BRE), once the most respected research body of its type in the world, was privatised in the 1990s. It had earlier been turned into an 'Executive Agency' - a sort of half-way-house to full privatisation. When this happened, its prime role became to produce the messages and results Ministers wanted to hear. 'Management' and 'accountability' paperwork increased threefold or more. Having lost much of its academic integrity (and most of its internationally recognised scientists), BRE was never again to command the level of respect it had enjoyed from the 1940s to the 1970s.
The NRPB continues to present radon as a prime public health issue. It has never learnt to get radiation risks in perspective with the many others facing the world. Its behaviour will once again become newsworthy in 2006 and beyond as the risks of nuclear power are debated within the context of global warming. This topic was not even thought about in the early 1990s, or indeed during the 'energy crisis' and 'oil crisis' years of the mid and late 1970s which saw BRE and its team of newly recruited research PhDs propelled into the political limelight.
A parallel section of SeeRed will reproduce some of the author's energy conservation work undertaken during the 1980s, again at BRE. Much of this had a 'consumer bias' and remains useful even 25 years later. Once again, many rogue companies are setting up to peddle expensive and largely ineffective solar water heating and similar systems - only now they are selling them on the back of legitimate concerns about global warming. Solar water heating remains one of the least effective uses of capital for energy conservation purposes in the UK climate. The wheel has turned full circle, yet this time around, there is little good government advice available. The reasons for this will be explained.
The 1970s, and indeed the decades before that, were years in which principled and dedicated Civil Servants were still able to stand up to idiotic and ignorant Ministers and befuddled MPs. I can still remember the glee with which we demolished some of the silly recommendations of one particular Select Committee. One Tory MP expressed alarm when told that power stations were only about 35% efficient - the remaining 65% of the energy they consumed being dumped into rivers or the air. He thought this was outrageous - and asked what could be done about it. We suggested he could look into repealing the second law of thermodynamics.
Another Select Committee investigated the radon issue - more of that later within this section. You really have to be involved in these events to realise just how much the whole UK parliamentary system is geared to preening the egos of ill informed and self opinionated MPs - and how little public good many of them do.
As for scientists in the Civil Service, those of us without mortgages or children to worry about maybe had one or two arguments too many with the stuffed shirts in 'administration' but at least we enjoyed ourselves, even as far as the early 1990s, as well as doing a thoroughly useful job in the public interest. As they say, those were the days......
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Index for the radon section
(numbering sequence follows that in the original printed Handbook)
00. Title page
G. Glossary of terms use in radon work
4. Introduction to radon and indoor air quality.
5. Some basic facts about radiation: a perspective.
6. A note on units used in radon work.
7. Conversion factors for different units.
8. Monitoring for radon: methods and discrepancies.
9. Areas of the UK affected by radon.
10. The quantity of radon in UK houses.
11. How to decide on radon remedial treatment.
12. Further reading on radon.
PART 2. Health, legal & economics
21. Simplified explanation of the risks from radon.
22. Radon: a health, environmental or a nuclear issue?
23. Radon as a public health issue: how important is it?
24. Radon and older people - no cause for concern?
25. Preventable radon deaths in the UK.
26. Further statistics for radon in the UK.
27. Radon in schools: a major health risk to children?
28. The link with smoking: misrepresentation of radon risks.
29. Risks from passive smoking: possible links with radon.
30. Radon and Leukaemia.
31. Radon risks within a cancer perspective.
32. Buying or selling a house in a radon affected area.
33.Financial implications of installing a radon system: capital costs, maintenance costs, and property values.
34. Radon problems in the United States: why so much fuss?
35. Radon in water: health risks in perspective.
36. Comparisons of track-etch detectors from the UK and USA.
37. The role of the NRPB.
38. Legal implications of radon in the UK.
39. Cost benefit calculations for radon remediation.
40. Radon in New Jersey and other States.
41. Avoiding undue risk: time-scales for radon remediation.
42. Radon politics in the USA.
43. How radon could have been addressed.
44.The abstracts that never were. September 1990.
45. A suggested protocol for reporting radiation hazards.
46. Occupational exposure to radon.
47. Medical applications of radium and radon.
PART 3. Building
51. Radon protection and affected areas: a perspective.
52. Design & operation of radon sump systems.
53. Who to employ to cure a radon problem?
54. Testing of building sites for radon levels.
55. The influence of house occupancy, weather and building design on indoor radon levels.
56. The role of heating systems in determining radon levels.
57. Influence of radon measures on timber floors.
58. Sealing techniques and their performance.
59. Diagnostics for radon remediation.
60. Experience with radon sumps.
61. Experience with whole house pressurisation.
62. Experience with ventilation provision.
63. Passive stack ventilation and the story of a radon project in the USA.
64. Building Codes in the USA: the delegation of control.
History of the Handbook of Radon
Review in New Scientist magazine
Letters in the British Medical Journal - challenging NRPB's perspective of radon
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