Radon is a naturally occurring radioactive gas, with no colour, taste or smell. It originates from uranium found in soils and rocks. When uranium decays, it becomes radium, and when radium decays, it becomes radon gas. Radon lasts for several days before it begins to break down. It has a half-life of 3.8 days. All water and air contains some radon, though amounts are normally much too low to be of concern. Radon is chemically non-reactive, so this allows it to move freely from the soil to the atmosphere. Concentrations vary from region to region, and even from home to home in the same area, depending upon geology. In open spaces, when radon mixes with air, it is quickly diluted and dispersed into the atmosphere. However, if there is radon in the ground beneath a building, it may find its way in through cracks in floors and walls and build up to levels that can affect health.
Public Health England regularly monitors levels of radon around the country and has identified those areas where there is a greater risk of radon being present in homes. Some areas, such as Devon, Cornwall, Northants and Derbyshire can have particularly high levels of the gas because of the underlying geology.
If radon concentrations, in air, in a dwelling exceed the Action Level of 200 Bq m-3 (Becquerels per cubic metre), the Government recommends that steps be taken to keep radon out; such as by sealing cracks and ventilating under-floor spaces. The Action Level for employers premises is 400 Bq m-3 There is a target level of 100 Bq m-3 set by Public Health England as target to remediate to if the action level is reached.
Public Health England and The British Geological Survey have published a radon dataset for England and Wales. This gives a radon-probability banding for a property.
If you are buying or selling a property, the probability of radon being above the action level will be supplied as part of a local authority search. Alternatively, you can go to the UK Radon website, to undertake an on-line check on the expected radon probability for a specific property, for a small fee.
An average radon-probability for a 1km grid square can be viewed in the following document.
Because of the effects of wind and temperature, the air pressure in buildings is usually lower than the air pressure in the soil beneath it. Air from the soil creeps into the lower pressure area of the house through cracks and gaps in the floor or walls. This air contains radon, and in areas where radon levels in the soil are quite high, indoor radon levels can rise above the Action Level of 100 Bq m-3. If you are concerned about radon in your home, you can arrange a test for a cost of around £46 at UKRadon.
Radiation in the environment
Radiation in the environment was monitored in the district, over a number of years, following the 1986 Chernobyl accident. This was undertaken through the Southern England Monitoring Group (SERMG), which was set up by a number of local authorities and Southampton University to monitor environmental radioactivity in terrestrial and marine ecosystems across southern England. None of the levels of manmade or artificial radionuclides found in samples of locally produced food, grass, sea fish, seaweed or soil were considered to be hazardous to the public.
The Environment Agency is responsible for the control of radioactive wastes and discharges in England and the enforcement of the Radioactive Substances Act 1993. A report on Radioactivity in the Environment is produced annually by the Environment Agency, to provide a summary and radiological assessment of monitoring data over the previous year.
Electromagnetic fields (EMFs) include static fields such as the Earth's magnetic field and fields from electrostatic charges, electric and magnetic fields from the electricity supply at power frequencies (50 Hz in the UK), and radio waves from TV, radio and mobile phones, radar and satellite communications. For a useful explanation of electric and magnetic fields click on the following link to Public Health England's website.
Mobile phones and mobile phone masts are increasingly common, the NHS provides guidance on these issues.
European Commission have produced a report Health and Electromagnetic Fields. (1.2MB).
Particular concerns have been expressed, locally, about the possible health effects of Terrestrial Trunked Radio (TETRA) a radio system used by Airwave O2, on behalf of the Home Office, for secure Police communications. Unless TETRA or phone masts require planning permission, the council has no statutory powers to prevent their erection or use.
For enquiries regarding mobile phone masts or interference with TV or Radio reception contact OFCOM.
National radioactivity statistics are included in the key environmental statistics published by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) in the annual booklet "The Environment in your pocket"