IGCP 571 - Radon, Health and Natural Hazards
Gavin Gillmore, Robin Crockett, Vivek Walia
This project will focus on a variety of impacts and hazard-associated manifestations of radon gas. This colourless, odourless, radioactive gas together with its radioactive daughter isotopes has been linked to lung cancer (and other cancers). In the UK it has been suggested by government bodies (the Health Protection Agency or HPA) that between 1000 and 2000 people die each year from radon induced lung cancer. This is not simply a UK problem: for example, the corresponding figure for the USA is 15000-22000. Recent European-wide research has demonstrated that there is no ‘safe’ lower limit for radon exposure, which throws into question limits set in the UK (200 Bq m-3, domestic; 400 Bq m-3, workplace) and corresponding limits set elsewhere in Europe and the USA, for example, in the home or workplace or in drinking water before remediation is required. High/Raised radon levels have been noted in work environments (in particular water treatment plants, tunnels, caves and mines). Throughout the world links have been made between radon levels in mines and the incidence of lung cancer in mine workers, for example. Other recent research has clearly demonstrated a link between ocean and earth tides and indoor radon levels in some locations. This work is a step towards understanding the drivers behind indoor atmospheric radon concentrations, but much is still unknown. Similarly, radon is being increasingly used in the monitoring of earthquake activity: a good example is the North Anatolian Fault monitoring network recently established in Turkey but there are networks being planned in Nepal and Tibet. Radon in groundwater wells has been used to monitor such activity in Japan and Iran (the latter currently unpublished work). Understanding the behaviour and drivers of radon gas will greatly help hazard planners – both concerning radon itself and using it as an earthquake / landslide / volcanic hazard monitor and precursor.
Radon hazard assessment is a multi-/inter- disciplinary subject as it requires inputs from geologists, geographers (e.g. Geographic Information Systems), mathematicians, physicists, epidemiologists/ medical researchers and planners.
This hazard has significant socio-economic impact in the developed world and in the developing world, in terms of both indoor radon and radon-associated hazards such as earthquake activity. Short-term and long-term benefits of the programme would be to better inform decision-makers as to where and when to employ resources to minimise societal risk – both directly from radon gas and its radioactive daughter isotopes and indirectly from radon-sensitive hazards.