Effect of gas on children

CHILDREN living in homes containing high levels of a radioactive gas appear to be at no greater risk of developing cancer, according to the results of a new study.

CHILDREN living in homes containing high levels of a radioactive gas appear to be at no greater risk of developing cancer, according to the results of a new study.

The findings will be a relief to people living in part of the Suffolk Coastal district which was identified several years ago as a "hotspot" for radon – a naturally occurring gas which seeps into homes from rocks and soils and becomes trapped.

The new study, involving 6,000 homes all over Britain was conducted by a team of scientists led by cancer specialist, Professor Sir Richard Doll .

They looked at radon levels in the homes of 2,226 children with cancer and 3,773 healthy children.

The researchers divided the cancers into six groups and analysed them separately, to see whether radon radiation might trigger some types of cancer but not others.

None of the six groupings showed a link to higher levels of radiation.

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"No evidence to support an association between higher radon concentrations and the risk of any of the childhood cancers was found," the scientists say in their report.

Medical research has shown that exposure to high doses of radiation can cause cancer. But no conclusive evidence has so far been discovered linking forms of the disease to long-term exposure to low-level radiation.

Concern about a possible link between childhood cancers and radon has been particularly acute in Devon and Cornwall where levels of the gas in homes are three to four times the national average.

A 225 square kilometre area of the Suffolk Coastal district – including Old Felixstowe, Woodbridge, Martlesham Heath and Newbourne – was identified several years ago as East Anglia's only radon hotspot.

However, although the UK radiation watchdog carried out a monitoring programme, the levels involved were well below those found in the South West and not considered high risk.

Nearly 150 homes in the Suffolk Coastal district have been monitored and advice given on radon reduction measures to the occupants of several properties where high levels were found.

Only one property was considered to have a dangerous radon level.

Tim Davidson, an environmental health officer with Suffolk Coastal District Council, said 20 homes had been tested this year. Fifteen results had already been received – all below the "action" level – and the remaining five results were still awaited.

"New houses being built in the Felixstowe, Trimley and Kirton areas include basic protection to prevent radon entering into the property," he added.

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