Radioactive gas warning

Heart's found out two thirds of people contacted about possible radiation in part of the Thames Valley haven't signed up to a free test to find out if they're affected.

Last month the Health Protection Agency wrote to more than 9,000 homes across West Oxfordshire offering a free test of the property to determine the level of radon present. So far around a third of those offered a free test have taken up the offer. People living in Ledwell, Charlbury and Hailey are leading the response rate.

Radon is an odourless, colourless natural gas which seeps into homes from the ground. Long term exposure to the gas can lead to lung cancer and it's estimated that each year about 1,000 people across the UK die from a radon linked lung cancer.

West Oxfordshire was targeted by the HPA as part of a long running campaign to reduce radon levels in homes in those parts of the country where the geology suggests that there could be a problem.

Radon occurs naturally and is present all over the UK. It cannot be seen, heard, smelled or tasted - but each year is believed to lead to over 1,000 lung cancer deaths. Smokers can be at a greater risk because smoking increases a radon exposed person’s chance of developing lung cancer.

For years HPA scientists have been running awareness and testing campaigns in places where levels of the gas are believed to be highest, including Scotland, Cornwall and other parts of Oxfordshire, and then advising householders on what to do next.

Dr John Cooper, Director of the HPA’s Centre for Radiation, Chemicals and Environmental Hazards: “Everyone is exposed to radon all the time and for most of us it is the largest single part of our annual radiation dose. However there are areas where levels of this naturally occurring gas are high and so raise the risks for people who live there – West Oxfordshire is one such area."

He added: "Over the years we have measured around 800 homes in the district and I’m pleased to say most levels were generally low - but the geology suggests hundreds more homes may have high levels."

Radon testing involves placing two plastic detectors, about the size of a biscuit, in key positions around the home. After three months the detectors are posted to the HPA where they are analysed and the radon level is calculated. If levels are high the HPA will recommend householders take steps to reduce levels with local advice sessions planned to help provide the information needed.