Radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer worldwide after smoking, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). The European Radon Association (ERA) has therefore designated November 7 - the birthday of two-time Nobel laureate Marie Curie - as European Radon Day. The goal of the radon association is to create more awareness that radon can pose a health risk.
The colorless, odorless and tasteless noble gas is formed by radioactive decay of uranium. Since uranium occurs almost everywhere as a trace element (rock, soil, building materials), radon is also formed everywhere. If house foundations are poorly sealed, the gas can penetrate buildings and collect in the indoor air.
AGES measures risk perception of the Austrian population
The Risk Barometer of the Agency for Health and Food Safety (AGES) annually measures the perception of various health risks among the Austrian population. The focus of this year's risk barometer was on the noble gas radon. It was found that despite a low level of knowledge on the subject of radon, the noble gas is perceived as a possible health risk. However, nearly half of the participants are undecided or do not know whether radon exposure in buildings poses a significant health risk to them. More than 80% say they place great importance on the quality of indoor air as well as on the ventilation of their own rooms. The vast majority of participants would also take immediate action to reduce radon concentrations in their homes.
Since most people in Austria spend about 90% of their lives indoors, adequate ventilation plays an important role. For homes and offices, it is advisable for reasons of indoor hygiene to open the windows about every two to three hours and "air through". Depending on the outside temperature, ventilation times ranging from a few minutes to continuous ventilation in the warmer months are advisable. In closed rooms, there can be an accumulation of radon in the air we breathe, which can be reduced by regular ventilation.
Radon measurements and radon potential map
However, ventilation alone is not a permanent and efficient measure to ensure low radon levels. Radon measurements are a necessary step to determine if elevated concentrations are occurring. Where radon concentrations are elevated, targeted efficient measures can be taken.
The Radiation Protection Act and the associated Radon Protection Ordinance designate those municipalities that are considered radon protection areas or radon precautionary areas. In the 104 Austrian municipalities designated as radon protection areas, measures for the health protection of workers are mandatory. In radon precautionary areas, preventive radon protection measures are to be provided for all new buildings, depending on the respective state regulations. On the interactive radon potential map, which is based on about 50 000 measurements, it is possible to see to which area a municipality is assigned by entering the postal code.
AGES coordinates radon activities in Austria
AGES'sAustrian Radon Competence Center coordinates all radon-related activities in Austria and has the best-equipped laboratory in Austria for measuring radon in air, water and soil. The Fachstelle für Radon has set up a radon infoline; radon experts are available to answer questions every Wednesday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at 050 555-41800.