Older Stuff From Long Ago

HPA Introduces Target Level for ‘Killer Gas’ | 15 Jul 2010

The Health Protection Agency (HPA) has introduced what it calls a new ‘Target Level’ of 100 becquerels per cubic metre (Bq m-3) for radon levels in the home.

This Target Level is in addition to the current Action Level of 200 Bq m-3 which provides that where indoor levels are found to be above 200 Bq m3, action should be taken to reduce the level. It applies to all homes and should be applied to schools and other premises where occupancy by members of the public exceeds 2,000 hours per year.

Speaking on behalf of the HPA, Dr John Cooper, director of the HPA’s Centre for Radiation, Chemicals and Environmental Hazards, said: “We are retaining the Action Level of 200 Bq m-3 so that our efforts can be firmly focussed on those at greatest risk. However the new Target Level of 100 Bq m-3 will enable us to ensure people are aware that even below 200 Bq m-3 there are still risks to health and simple remediation measures can be taken to reduce these.”

Radon, a naturally occurring radioactive isotopic gas, is known to be responsible for between 1,000 and 2,500 deaths per year in the UK and is the second biggest cause of lung cancer. This new Target Level comes in response to the growing body of evidence highlighting the health risks of exposure to radon below 200 Bq m3.

The risk of lung cancer is thought to rise by 16% per 100 Bq m3 increase in radon exposure. The latest advice on radon from the World Health Organisation (WHO) exhorts legislators to introduce what they term a ‘Reference Level’ of 100 Bq m3 with a recommendation that still lower levels should be aimed for if at all possible.

However, due to the significant number of deaths and cancers associated with radon exposure, organisations such as The Radon Council do not see the implementation of a second tier safety level as adequate. Brian Ahern, Chairman of the Radon Council said “We have previously expressed reservations about a two tier system and question the wisdom of having an ‘action level’ and a ‘target level’. In our opinion this will cause even more confusion to the public at large.”

The Radon Council also has reservations about the mapping system which determines the likelihood of high radon levels. Buildings in areas deemed as low probability may still have increased levels of radon.

The Building Regulations stipulate that new houses in UK Radon Affected Areas must be built with radon protection such as ventilation and membranes, however these do not require an actual test of radon levels and installation practices have been known to be spurious. The Radon Council feels that the blanket policy ‘To Test Is Best’ would be the least confusing solution, especially since the testing process is straightforward and relatively inexpensive.

It is hoped that the planned revision of the UK Building Regulations will provide the opportunity to improve radon protection, for example by requiring a gas barrier across the entire footprint of the building and to fully reflect the WHO advice. However, it is our understanding that the Department of Communities and Local Government have delayed the planned revision until 2013.

The fact that the HPA has introduced this target level instead of altering the action level suggests that robust radon protection is some way away. Environmental Protection UK supports the recommendations of the Radon Council and believes that the introduction of a separate Target Level will serve to muddy the waters for all concerned.

Day of Silence Proposed for those Positively Affected by Volcanic Ash | 4 May 2010

The Heathrow Association for the Control of Aircraft Noise (HACAN) has called for an annual day of silence to commemorate the eruption of the Eyjafjallajökull volcano, which brought air traffic to a standstill for almost a week last month.

The campaign group, which represents residents under the Heathrow flight paths, said that the day of silence wouldn’t be a mark of sympathy for the air travel industry but an act of remembrance for the quiet skies which no longer exist for residents as far afield as Tower Hamlets, Greenwich and Hornchurch.

The day of silence would also serve to highlight the benefits of peace and quiet. “A completely silent day is clearly unrealistic but we think an annual Day of Silence would be a useful reminder to us all of just how noisy our world has become,” said John Stewart, chair of HACAN, who added that the cloud of ash had a ‘silver lining’ for residents under the Heathrow flight path and said that HACAN got letters and emails from people all over Europe celebrating the silence.

Of course those people who live under the flight paths of Heathrow, Gatwick and London City Airport are sympathetic to the thousands of people who were left stranded during this unprecedented period of environmental activity within Europe, but they also pointed out that, for the first time in up to 20 years, they were able to hear birdsong.

One Tower Hamlets resident said: “”I couldn’t believe the difference in our area. People were actually sitting outside in their gardens and windows were flung open. It felt like a different place and reminded me how it was before we had the City[airport] jets in the skies” A resident of Redbridge, Essex commented: “No departing flights from City Airport at low altitude, no early morning arrivals bound for Heathrow and NO jet roar! Sheer bliss!”

Anne-Marie Griffin, Chair of Fight the Flights, an organisation dedicated to stopping the expansion of London City Airport, said: “We would like to set a challenge for politicians from all parties to act on the unacceptable noise levels from current aircraft activities and find ways to better manage and reduce them. The European Noise Directive underpins this and should assist politicians in acting positively on this issue.”

East London residents have been monitoring noise levels as part of the Fight the Flight campaign in association with University College London. Ttheir findings will be published this week and will compare the difference in noise levels between the period where there were no flights and a normal week of aircraft activity over their homes.

Researchers Find Noise Assessment and Reporting Requires Greater Uniformity | 4 May 2010

The Environmental Noise Directive – currently under review by a consortium of European consultancies – should develop a coherent common method for mapping noise levels across all European member states, Irish researchers have found.

The Irish findings, which were published in the April edition of Environment International, come as no surprise.

The European Environment Agency published their noise mapping findings in October 2009 and stated that they found it hard to compare regional data as there were no uniform methods of assessing noise pollution.

The Irish body identifies 25 different methods used to calculate noise pollution among the member states, and though the underlying principals remain the same, the details and the formulae used to process the data differ considerably from one assessor to another.

Heights and distances from noise producers to the monitors may vary, some include car parks while others don’t, various assessors use different software packages to do their calculations which produce different results and the graphical representations of the findings do not adhere to a standard template.

This lack of cohesion has been pointed out before; a year ago the European Union Road Federation called for uniformity in the way measurements in the action plans on noise pollution would be taken. At the time an official within the commission said that they may look into the matter.

A report published on the twenty-seventh of April this year by the European Environment Agency identified road traffic as by far the greatest source of transport noise and this is only set to get worse as road use is firmly linked with the increase of GDP of any given union member state.

This, they found meant the number of people affected by damaging noise is expected to increase unless effective policies are implemented.

A full review of the Environmental Noise Directive will be handed to the European Commission in May or June by the reviewing bodies sited throughout the EU.

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