By: Sonila Mesareja
Experts: It damages lungs and causes cancer – caution is advised in offices and homes through frequent ventilation
Experts Mema & Deliu: There are no reports on radon pollution in Tirana
NEA: We have measured only the air quality; there are no data or reports on the level of radon
Radon, like bad air quality, kills equally, slowly and imperceptibly.Nobody has yet taken seriously the control over level of radon in the country; thus, the annual environmental reports lack a separate annex to talk about environmental pollution that comes from this radioactive gas. To obtain information regarding the measurements that experts have conducted on the level of radon in the capital city of Tirana, we requested information from the National Environmental Agency. We were told that they could provide us with real-time information on air and water pollution, but not on radon. They had no data or reports on the level of radon in the capital, nor about the rest of the country. We asked the same information also from the Ministry of Environment who directed us to the National Environmental Agency. The Ministry also lacked a person who could provide information on radon. Like earlier, we contacted the oldest radon measurement specialist in country, Mr. Shkëlqim Mema, regarding any possible report son measurements performed or if there is any station in the capital for measuring radioactive gas that is formed as a result of dissolution of uranium found in soil, mainly in the areas mostly talked of high levels of radon. He said, “There are no such stations for measuring radon, furthermore I would even say that there are no measurements conducted for years about the level of radon in the country.The situation is as bad as it used to be. Practically, people have to become self-conscious and take some measures to save themselves from harm of exposure to high-level-radon environment. There are experts, but they are on “vacation” throughout the year, as long as there are no funds and devices for measurement of radon levels in the country” – said Mema. He is an expert with nearly 40 years of experience in the Ministry of Environment and earlier than that he worked for the Institute of Public Health. Mr. Mema is recently retired. He says he regrets that none of the governments has ever assessed this issue properly. “There is no law in place to define the obligation for measuring the level of radon, maintaining it under control and intervene in event of a required level rise. In fact, there are no reports that indicate the real situation in the capital regarding the level of this gas, however, I want to add that the areas of concern are the same old ones” – expert Mema went on while talking about legislation shortfalls and consequently the lack of periodic or annual reports on the level of radon in Tirana and countrywide.
Radon level is high in some areas of the capital. The map has not changed in years. Experts say that the segment from ‘Kinostudio’ to ‘Vasil Shanto’ and the one from ‘Kinostudio’ to ‘Kombinat’ has resulted in high rates of radon.We are talking about residential areas, as the level is high even in other areas of the capital, as DAJTI and Prisca.According to Mr. Mema, there is greater release of radioactive gas in the areas with a higher concentration of uranium. He says that, confined spaces create the opportunity for higher concentrations. When inhaled with the air, such concentrations create the possibility for fragments, which are pro genies of radon radioactive material in the form of particles, to remain in the respiratory tract. “They stay there and damage tissues leading to severe illness”, Shkëlqim Mema says. According to him, during the breakup, radon releases radioactive elements, which cause lung cancer in humans. The 40-year-old expert of this field has an appeal for the construction builders. “No matter what the function of buildings is, builders should have a preliminary monitoring of the situation. Research studies should be part of development and construction policies for the specific purpose of being properly oriented towards the construction projects that will be applied”, Mr Mema says. He highlights that there is no information available to the builders. Before beginning any construction, as duty should be performed to find out whether there is radon in the site that they will build in. The same should .be done with regard to the construction materials they use, which are often taken from other areas or countries with high radon content.
Where is the highest level of radon?
One-story homes have higher concentration of radon level than new homes. They are most likely to circulate and introduce radon indoors. But this is not the only case. Measurements have indicated that even old buildings of several floors have a high concentration of radon level in first and second floors. For this reason experts suggest ventilation of dwellings throughout the day and of offices until one hour before start of work. Measurement made by a radon expert in one of the state offices, which was in the first floor, indicated that the level of radon found was three times the rate set by the EU. “On Friday, after we finished work, together with Safet, an expert, we put a radon measurement device in the office, to monitor and see what the level of radon would be on Monday. When we went back to office and checked the device, we were shocked; the level was three times higher than the rate set by the EU”,said Professor Petrit Zorba regarding this experiment done in their office located on the first floor, based on suspicion that there were high concentrations of radon level. “Even earlier, but now more often as we ascertained how high is the level of radon in the office, we open the windows for ventilation one hour before the start of work and then we start the day. In fact, radon damages our lungs and it is too late when we notice it – thus everybody should be cautious”, Professor Zorba says. This advice is also given by expert Mema, who suggests to every bodya compulsory ventilation for several hours of old premises such as residences or offices, old one-story buildings, new buildings also, as there is high doubt about the materials used in construction due to their origin, i.e. the country that supplies them. “What builders fail to do – receive any information about construction raw materials – should be done by us, the citizens, to protect ourselves, i.e. as much ventilation of our homes and regular medical checks to identify any potential health damage caused by radon and/or polluted air”, Mr. Mema urges.
Level of Radon according to Regulation
On the website of the Ministry of Health, under the Radiation Commission, there is a regulation adopted to measure the level of radon. But, practically, there is not any report to provide information on the level of radon in the country. Therefore the expression that we have good laws and regulations in place, but they are not applied, is very illustrative. Contacted about a potential report on radon, officials of the Institute of Public Health, an institution reporting directly to the Ministry, told us: “There is no report on the level of radon in Tirana. In the reports issued so far, we have included only the quality of air, but no measurement of radon level.”According to another expert,Mr. Agron Deliu, measurement of radon contamination level is included in none of annexes to their reports, not even in the latest report presenting the annual situation of air quality for 2013. The report on air quality, 2013 was made available to us by Mr. Deliu and it clearly shows that damages from radon are not included. Even NEA, which measures the level of pollution in the environment, has included in its reports the air and water, but not radon pollution. “We do not have any data or reports that measure the level of radon in the country,” said Mr. Julian Beqiri, NEA Director. But what does the regulation adopted in 2011 read?
“The purpose of this regulation is to establish permitted levels of radon concentrations in buildings and water, radio-nuclei in food and building materials, as a basis for protecting the public, professionally exposed persons, and the environment from exposure to ionizing radiation”,is stated in its Article 1, adding below that what should be the maximum permitted concentration of radon in residential buildings, public facilities and workplaces. “In new buildings the annual average concentration of radon indoor should be no more than 200 Bq/m3. In workplaces located in new buildings, which are used more than 80% of working time, annual average concentration of radon during working hours should be no more than 200 Bq/m3. When they are used less than 80% of work time, the average annual concentration of radon during working time should be no more than 400 Bq/m3. The annual average concentration of radon inside dwellings built before the year 2000 should be no more than 400 Bq/m3” as specified in the regulation, but nobody cares to monitor or measure the level of radon at specific spots of the capital. The regulation clearly defines the maximum permitted concentration of radon and radio-nuclei in drinking water. According to the regulation, the following rates of radon concentration will apply in drinking water, including all its distribution system, i.e. packaged water and water that is used for food preparation: a) Concentration of radon in drinking water should be no more than 100 Bq/L when: 1) the average total daily consumption is about 10 m3; 2) it serves 50 or more people; 3) it is distributed as part of food or commercial industrial activities; b) Concentration of alpha emitting radio-nuclei should be no more than 0.1 Bq/L; c) Concentration of beta emitting radio-nuclei should be no more than 1 Bq/L. There are measurements, neither for the level of radon in drinking water,nor for that in food or industrial products. As expert Mema puts it: it has never occurred to cross anybody’s mind and it is also due to lack of funds.
What is the permitted level of radon in new buildings?
Builders need to measure the level of radon not only in the area where they will build, but also in building materials that will be used to set up new premises, whether for housing, or even for offices. But, according to experts, nobody does such a thing. The guide on permitted level of radio-nuclei activity index in construction materials and products is enforced by none of the builders. According to the regulation, the guide on permitted level of radio-nuclei activity index in construction materials and products is based on effective permitted dosage of 1mSv/ year for the public. Construction materials and products are used without restriction in terms of amount, if the activity index does not exceed 1 as specified in the following formula: I= aRa + aTh + aK 300 200 3000 (where aRa, aTh, aK are the concentrations of Ra-226, Th-232, K-40 in Becquerel per kilogram). Also, construction materials and products are used for construction of roads and embankments, if the activity index does not exceed 1 according to the following formula: I= aRa + aTh + aK + aCs 700 500 8000 2000 (where aRa, aTh, aK, aCs are the concentrations of Ra-226,Th-232, K-40 and Cs-137 in Becquerel per kilogram). Construction materials and products are used for filling and levelling, if the activity index does not exceed 1 according to the following formula: I= aRa + aTh + aK + aCs 2000 1500 20000 5000 (where aRa, aTh, aK, aCs are the concentrations of Ra-226, Th-232, K-40 and Cs-137 in Becquerel per kilogram). According to the regulation, the above levels are instructive levels, but in every case and for every possible scenario associated with exposure to radiation, the effective dosage of 1mSv a year for the public should not be passed. Assessment of the permitted level of radio-nuclei in scrap should be controlled based on the level of 1mSv / year of the effective permitted dosage for the public in accordance with the methods approved by the Radiation Protection Committee (RPC). Companies engaged in melting scrap should ensure their control before the merging and during their import-exports from Albania, as well as control of melted metal. But, practically, none of these controls is happening. We contacted a female builder, who was asked if she ever measured the level of radon in the site or in the construction materials she used before starting to build and she shrugged her shoulders saying, “I had not even heard anyone talking of radon. I’m only now getting information on the threat posed by the presence of radon in dwellings or construction materials.
The method used for measurement of permitted levels is approved by the Radiation Protection Committee (RPC), upon proposal of institutions that carry out measurements. Measurements performed are subject to inspection by Inspectors of Radiation Protection Office (RPO). Inspectors verify legal and physical entities whether they possess required certificates regarding the permitted level. In fact, our inquiry into the institutions that carry out measurements of the level of environmental pollution, found out that for years there are no measurements of radon level performed in the country. Furthermore, that was confirmed even by the Radon Measurement Expert in the Ministry of Environment, Mr. Shkëlqim Mema, who stated that due to lack of funds, for many years now there has been no measurement of radon activity or any reports on its production level.
What is radon?
Radon is a radioactive, colourless, odourless, and tasteless gas and therefore not detectable by human senses.It is created as an indirect decay product of uranium and thorium that is found in the soil. This radioactive gas, for various reasons, comes out of pores of soil that contains radioactive elements and spreads on its surface. For this reason, this gas is present inside the house, especially in basements and first floors, but by no means is its presence excluded in the upper floors. Thus, the source of presence of radon in buildings is the content of uranium and thorium in soil formations in building sites and construction materials that are used (mainly in stones and sand used for building premises; measurements should be first performed at the site they are taken from). Dajti Mountain area is not recommended by specialists for getting stones for the foundations of houses.
Radon – the lung cancer cause
Cancer is a fatal disease and the greatest threat to human life, especially for the young ages. Radon kills like smoking, slowly and over time.There are no apparent identifying symptoms at the time, but it kills slowly over the years. This is the conclusion made by experts of the Radiation and Environmental Protection Department, regarding the dangers due to exposure to radon. Lung cancer is caused to someone who is exposed for several years to high levels of radon.This is why, health experts recommend the measurement of radon in homes, with each of us being at risk. Health professionals go even further in referring consequences that brings exposure to radon, stating that radon contamination is viewed as the cause of cancer in 15 percent of lung cancer cases.According to specialist Mema, being a radioactive gas that is formed primarily on earth and released on its surface, radon enters the lungs through breathing.This makes radon one of the most dangerous gases to human life as through the respiratory system it is deposited in the lungs and damages them gradually causing cancer .
Monitoring radon in drinking water
Tirana has real problems from radon. Tirana is placed on an active red layer that, according to experts, produces radon. It is exactly that part of the city that is dominated by low 1-2-story dwellings, which are almost every day replaced by new construction where the active red layer of radon lays. The layer must necessarily be isolated to prevent the passage of radon in the buildings.