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Saturday, December 06, 2008

Is There Radon in Your Granite Countertop?

The newest controversy in home building today is probably right in your kitchen. The most coveted material of the new century ‘granite’ has also become the most hotly debated.  And the fight isn’t over whether or not granite can give your kitchen enough re-sale power to legitimize its cost, but whether or not this tiny bit of luxury can kill you.

Over the last few years, the prevalent use of granite in the home has come under some scrutiny. The problem is that granite emits radon, a radioactive gas found naturally in most soil and rock. Radon is the leading cause of lung cancer in the U.S. among non-smokers, and the Environmental Protection Agency recommends limiting exposure as much as possible. Radon can seep into the home from the underlying soil and through the foundation; in fact, many homes contain some levels of the gas. However, the EPA asserts that any level below 4 pCi/L is acceptable and not a cause for concern.

Granite has long been believed to contain safe levels of radon, certainly less than the 4 pCi/L maximum thought to be safe. Recently, there has been a form of backlash against the use of granite in the home. Opponents caution that granite emits high enough levels of radiation and radon to cause cancer, and some tests have revealed levels exceeding the recommended limit of 4 pCi/L in some homes. The question posed to homebuilders and homeowners is whether or not any amount and form of granite is potentially cancer-causing and not worth the risk.

The Marble Institute of America, which represents granite manufacturers, counters that this anti-granite buzz is meant to play upon homeowners’ fears and that delving deeper into the issue reveals these fears to be unfounded. The MIA claims that the media has sensationalized the few cases in which radon inspectors have found high levels of the gas, making these cases seem to be the rule rather than the exception. Additionally, both the MIA and the Health Physics Society have raised questions about the radon inspectors’ testing procedures and have suggested that the results were faulty. Indeed, the MIA is calling for a standardized method for measuring radon so that private and published accounts of radon measurements can be adequately compared.

Undoubtedly, consumers are confused by what seems to be conflicting evidence. Do we rip out our granite countertops and go back to boring beige tile? Do we call the nearest radon inspector and keep our fingers crossed that our beloved Brazilian pink granite falls below the safety limit? Or, do we do more research and make an informed decision for our family’s safety?

Well, perhaps all three, but in reverse order. Do some research on the subject and come to your own conclusion about the best course of action (or non-action). Take a look at The New York Times article that started it all and at the radon and granite information page on the MIA’s website. As the parent of a 10 month old baby, I did what I thought was best for my family…and it might not be what you think.

Posted by casey on 12/06 at 08:03 PM


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