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Health and Environment : Radon Risk and Comparative Law

The Center for Interdisciplinary Research in Environmental and Urban and Regional Planning Law (CRIDEAU) focused on analysing the differences in legal approaches to radon risk in several national judicial systems mainly in Europe.

Radon is a naturally-occurring radioactive gas resulting from the disintegration of uranium and radium. It has a tendency to collect in the basements and ground floors of buildings, triggering a risk of lung cancer by inhalation if levels of concentration go above certain ceilings. Its release can be accelerated by some human activity.

The role of international and supranational organisations
The WHO came to the conclusion in 1986 that States should take into account the carcinogenic risk of radon. The risk was also taken into serious consideration by the UN Scientific Committee for the study of ion radiation as well as by the International Commission on Radiological Protection. The European Community* reacted as early as 1990 with a Recommendation, followed by a directive from Euratom in 1996 (concerning non-residential radon), and finally with a Recommendation in 2001 (concerning radon in drinking water).

Sharply contrasting national laws and policies
Some States are highly involved in radon risk (United States, Scandinavia, United Kingdom, Luxembourg, Switzerland), while others are much less concerned (Canada, Belgium, France, the Netherlands, Germany), and some quite indifferent (Southern Europe). The word 'radon' recently made its entry into the French Public Health Code, and several court decisions have already been handed down involving contamination of apartment buildings by the gas, including annulment of sale for concealed defect.
The scientific community is not completely of one mind on the harmfulness of radon and on the thresholds to be tolerated. Lack of scientific certitude is one good reason to adopt the precautionary principle. A number of policy areas are implicated: environment, public health, urban planning and management, consumer protection, etc. The interpretive principle of the European Human Rights Court* must also be borne in mind, when the Court rules that radon disputes fall under Article 2 of the Convention (right to life). CRIDEAU is pursuing its research in this changing field which demonstrates the link between environment and public health.


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Summary

à lire

• Gérard Monédiaire. Radon et droit, Cahiers du CRIDEAU n° 2, Presses Universitaires du Limousin, 2001, 160 p.
• Gabriel Real Ferrer. El radón - Tratamiento jurídico de un enemigo invisible, Ecu, Alicante, 2002, 230 p.

Contact

Gérard Monédiaire
Director of CRIDEAU
Centre de recherches interdisciplinaires en droit de l'environnement, de l'aménagement et de l'urbanisme.
CNRS-Université de Limoges-INRA
E-mail: crideau@drec.unilim.fr

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