The Radiation Protection Institute (RPI), through the Ghana Atomic Energy Commission (GAEC), has inaugurated a Radon laboratory with a state-of-the-art Radosys Radometer 2000 equipment for research, training and routine monitoring.
The laboratory, which is the first of its kind in Africa is a collaborative effort between the GAEC and the Regional Agency for Radiation Protection in Ivrea, Piemonte and Udine, FVG, all in Italy.
Madam Patricia Appiagyei, the Deputy Minister of Environment, Science, Technology and Innovation (MESTI), at the inauguration in Accra on Tuesday, said Radon was a naturally-occurring radioactive gas, which emanated from the decay of uranium over a period of time, and existed in the atmosphere in small amount.
She said although it cannot be smelled, seen or tasted, radon presented considerable health consequences, especially when trapped indoors in places including; homes, schools and workplaces, and breathing in over a period of time, increases one's risk to lung cancer, which was the number one cause of related deaths among non-smokers globally.
Madam Appiagyei said in many developing countries including; Ghana, activities leading to the exposure of radon and other decay products in the environment were extensively investigated and subjected to regulatory control as a result of lack of appropriate equipment to meet research standards in the area of natural radioactivity.
She said data on radon concentration in local and processed materials, residues and wastes, as well as in buildings, and exposure of the population were scanty, leading to a general lack of knowledge and awareness of the hazards by the public including; legislators, regulators, operators and decision makers.
She stressed the importance of the health and well-being of Ghanaians in the achievement of sustainable development, and said the effective way to determine the risk of exposure to radon gas was by measuring the levels in dwelling and workplaces, and improving ventilation systems of buildings in order to increase the rate of air exchange.
However, "considering the type of the buildings being developed in Ghana lately, that incorporate modern architecture such as aluminum and glass doors and windows, with increasing use of air conditioners, which kept majority of these indoor environment air-tight from natural ventilation, the radon gas can accumulate over a period of time," she said.
Madam Appiagyei commended the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the Italian partners and Radosys of Portugal, through whose guidance and technical support, the GAEC have been able to acquire the facility.
She urged the RPI and other key stakeholders to continue with interventions to promote public, occupational and environmental radiation health safety and also develop programmes that were directly related to the present national, regional and global development needs.
Professor Benjamin Jabez B. Nyarko, the Director-General of the Ghana Atomic Energy Commission, Nyarko said the facility would ensure more accurate measurements and establishment of standards, improving research, training, and technical services in the area of radiation protection and safety at GAEC, help in creating public awareness about the harmful effects of ironising radiation and radon in particular.
He was hopeful that the new facility would aid in acquiring data, that would be important in formulating guidelines for radon exposure mapping and strategy for the control of radiation exposure in Ghana, and create a pragmatic focus to multidisciplinary research that would help the RPI to attract new research collaboration and external funding.
Again, data on radon could be used for studying seismic activities to predict earthquake occurrence and exploring for uranium resources, and further, for determining movement of Carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere in relation to climate change, he said.
Prof. Nyarko said the facility would complement the Institute's effort in training scientists both in GAEC and others from institutions of higher learning who were engaged in radiological health and safety issues, by providing them with the needed skills to carry out measurement, analysis and interpretation of Radon and Naturally Occurring Radioactive Materials (NORM).
"Students, researchers and others will also have the unique opportunity to explore areas that extend beyond their boundaries of conventional academics within their faculties," and urged the Institute as it intensifies research and training in radiation protection to cover homes and workplaces, chemical waste and the extractive industries in particular the mining, oil and gas sectors.
Mr Paulo Pinto, the Managing Partner, of Radosys, Atlantic of Portugal, who did the installation of the equipment and staff training, testified to the high standard of the facility, and appreciated the collaboration with GAEC.