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Tests Link Radon Levels to Granite Countertops

Jul 28, 2008 | Parker Waichman LLP

Although marble makers disagree, recent test results reveal that some granite countertops are emitting dangerous radon levels into consumers- home.  Some groups are urging people with such countertops to have them tested for the amounts of radon gas they emit over concerns that amounts are above levels considered safe.

Marble manufacturers maintain that, "Radiation in granite is not dangerous," but the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says that radon is "a cancer-causing natural radioactive gas that you can’t see, smell, or taste.  Its presence in your home can pose a danger to your family's health.  Radon is the leading cause of lung cancer among non-smokers.  Radon is the second-leading cause of lung cancer in America, and claims about 20,000 lives annually."   Meanwhile the popularity, demand, and variety of and for granite countertops has grown in the last decade.

The amount of radon in the air is measured in "picoCuries per liter of air," or "pCi/L," and the EPA says 4 pCi/L is the level of radon exposure that requires someone to take action.  The EPA says levels lower than that "still pose a risk" and "in many cases, may be reduced."   According to The New York Times, 4 picocuries is "about the same risk for cancer as smoking a half a pack of cigarettes per day."

The EPA reports that it has been receiving calls from radon inspectors and also from concerned homeowners with “increasing regularity” about “granite countertops with radiation measurements several times above background levels."   Meanwhile, recently on an episode of The Early Show, Stanley Liebert, quality assurance director at CMT Laboratories in Clifton Park, New York showed co-anchor Harry Smith a chunk of granite countertop emitting 4.4 pCi/L and said, "The probability is we're looking at a problem here, and the granite would actually be removed.  In the lower levels we can usually improve (radon levels) by exchanging air" with systems that "bring fresh air in and exchange it with the air in the kitchen."  Liebert added that some granite countertop colors are more potentially troublesome than others:  "We're seeing higher results in reds, pinks, purples.  However, you've got to test them all."

The only way to determine radon levels from your granite countertops, and in your home is to test for them, and the EPA says, "There are many kinds of low-cost "do-it-yourself" radon test kits you can get through the mail and in hardware stores and other retail outlets.  If you prefer, or if you are buying or selling a home, you can hire a qualified tester to do the testing for you. You should first contact your state radon office about obtaining a list of qualified testers.  You can also contact a private radon proficiency program for lists of privately certified radon professionals serving your area."

Radon (Rn) is an inert gas that is released due to uranium decay in natural stone.  As well as emitting potentially carcinogenic gases, radon is radioactive.  High levels of radon are found in granite-type igneous rocks where uranium is typically present.


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