Thursday, July 24, 2008

Granite And Radon…Oy!!!

THIS is not good. The New York Times reports today that, apparently, granite countertops have been found to emit (low level, often) amounts of radiation. I not only spend many hours a day in close proximity to my granite countertops, I've been known to caress them when they look particularly fetching.

Exotic granites from faraway seem to be particular culprits. I was hoping that my Dakota Mahagony granite came from a state by that name, but not necessarily. more thing to worry about in vast of array of modern environmental concerns.

I immediately called a radon expert (go to Mitigation Services Listed by State on that site), a very helpful John Soos. He made me feel both better and worse. He said radon professionals have always known that granite countertops give higher radon readings.

If you put a radon test kit right on the source, i.e. the granite counter, the reading is higher. Every inch away from it, the reading is lower. The danger, though, isn’t from touching (or stroking, in my case) the granite, it’s from BREATHING in the gas that’s emitted from the radioactive elements in the granite.

I asked if resealing the granite could help. He said perhaps, because the radon can only travel as a gas. As the granite decays, the radon within turns into a gas and, presumably, sealing or resealing the countertop could cut the exposure.

By the way, the EPA says action is only needed above 4 picocuries,
while maintaining, of course, that NO level of radon is safe.

I frankly can't believe I never heard of this before. It's not mentioned in any of the usual lists for how radon gets into your house. So does that mean that it's a bogus concern?

What to do? I’m following Mr. Soos’s advice and getting a home test kit (or two or three). I’ll see what the readings say and then I’ll call my new best friend. I’ll let you know what I find.


Emiline said...

You're so smart.

Test it and get back to us, detective.
That is scary....stay safe. Don't breathe the air.

The Short (dis)Order Cook said...

When we remodeled our kitchen a couple of years ago, I was waffling on the countertop material. Silestone, soapstone, granite? Kevin made the decision and said granite. I wonder if he would regret that decision if he read this!

Cynthia said...

Yes please let us know. I recently bought a 3 x 2 ft piece granite for my counter top.

jim hogan said...

I’m extremely disappointed by all the recent media attention about granite countertops and radon. What’s most upsetting to me is there simply is no reason for consumers to panic. Why? Let’s consider the facts:

• On Friday, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued statements that reaffirm that granite countertops pose no significant health risk. The statement says: “While natural minerals such as granite may occasionally emit radon gas, the levels of radon attributable to such sources are not typically high. EPA believes the principal source of radon in homes is soil gas that is drawn indoors through a natural suction process. Granite is a natural mineral formed by earth's geology. It is mined and used to produce commercial products such as countertops. It is possible for any granite sample to contain varying concentrations of uranium that can produce radon gas. Some granite used in countertops may contribute variably to indoor radon levels. However, EPA has no reliable data to conclude that types of granite used in countertops are significantly increasing indoor radon levels.”

• The statements can be found at the EPA website, at**&p_li=&p_topview=1

• Consumer Reports, America's foremost consumer protection institute, recently conducted its own limited independent tests of granite countertops and found no evidence that granite countertops pose a health risk. In fact, none of the granite countertops tested by Consumer Reports were found to be emitting radon. According to Consumer Reports, similar findings were recently generated by other well-conducted studies of granite countertops, and those studies found that, of a large number of countertops tested, only a few samples emitted minute levels of radon.

• Beyond the EPA statements and Consumer Reports tests, countless studies over the years have found that the granite commonly used in countertops is safe to consumers. One of the most recent studies was conducted by the University of Akron. Dr. L.L. Chyi, who led this study, concluded that “Radon in countertops is not an issue.” Results of the Akron study are available on MIA’s website,

To eliminate confusion resulting from the junk science and inconsistent testing that’s been played up in the media these past few days, the Marble Institute is working with scientists and other experts to establish universal standards for testing granite countertops for radon emissions. The goal is to build a scientific consensus around testing protocols so that all research can be done consistently.

Yes, the Marble Institute of America represents granite manufacturers and, yes, we’re committed to looking out for their best interests. But we’re equally committed to looking out for the best interests of America’s consumers. That’s because we understand that is in everyone’s best interest to confirm once and for all that granite is every bit as safe as it is beautiful, durable and practical.

The Shirley's said...

There is a new coating process that blocks off gassing of radon from granite. It is by Innovative Stone and its called permashield. Home Depot has the exclusive rights to it. It has been given the Greenguard seal of approval as well as NSF certification.

Sue said...

Hey Em,
I could just be a silly willy alarmist. But just to be sure, I am holding my breath until I finish my 4 day radon testing.

Hey Rach,
You and millions of other people too! I'm sure it's completely fine, but I will report on what I find.

Hi Cyn,
I’m sure there's no problem with yours, but I found it strange that I had never heard of this before.

Hi Jim,
Thanks for taking the time to comment. You made me feel better AND worse. The fact that the EPA says radon is not safe at any level, but has chosen a particular level at which a home should be remediated doesn’t make me feel that great. And Consumer Reports could have tested one MILLION pieces of granite and found them fine. BUT if the millionth and one piece is in my house and THAT gives off significant levels of radon, that is what I’m concerned about.

I love the idea of the granite being tested BEFORE a consumer buys it. Then there’s no problem and nothing to worry about. AND if it’s as simple as sealing the granite yearly to ensure that there’s no problem with radon, why for goodness sake, haven’t consumers been told that?

Hi Shirley’s,
That’s fantastic if it works. There is still some question about if this is all just hooey and this coating is just one more thing to spend money on that really isn’t necessary. Is it different from the standard sealing that all granite gets? is it in addition to? Is it expensive?

Again the thing that bothers me the most is that it seems as if the granite folks have known about this issue and decided not to share it with the public.

Anonymous said...

But on Tuesdy night, the Marble Institute had to retract their claim that the EPA supported their side. Monday, the EPA redid their entire Radon/radiation/granite countertop site. Much tougher language, I guess so that the MIA would stop making these claims.

And Consumer Reports tested two samples? Very little info on the report, a paragraph at most. How can this be used to convience people not to worry?

And Jim, you paid for the Chyi study, which was unpublised. No one will trust an unpublished study because there was no peer review. Let's face it, the dude must have had a mortgage payment coming due.

Permashield? It has been around for years but unless it is an eighth inch thick, it won't block the Alpha or the Radon. Besides, even the MIA says you can't completely block a stones pores or spalling will occur.

Looks like Jim and Shirley have some explaining to do.

All the facts, including the MIA talking points, their form letters to be used or posted on forums like this, and the letter to their members saying the EPA didn't support their position is all on the

Anonymous said...

Best keep looking for info on this topic rather than believe the stone industry. Way too much money at risk, plus the have sucessfully covered this up for the past 14 years. They can’t tell the truth, so they keep digging the hole deeper.

If this was a non issue, neither the CRCPD (state radiation officials) nor AARST (radon scientists) would have committees seting maximum allowable radiation/radon levels for stones and measurement protocols. ANSI and ASME are also looking into the controversy for their organizations.

On the radon issue, we have a full scale radon test going currently, over 20 pCi/L so far from only 36square feet of granite in a 96 square foot room. That is like smoking 2 1/2 packs a day,

We have a lot of info on the topics available.

granite <3 said...

I think the last poster has stock in silestone! granite has been used as a building material for centuries. using it as a countertop surface is safer than using concrete as the foundation you build your home on!! potatoes come from the earth just as granite does and though you actually digest them, no one is raising stink about that!! and also "permashield is Not a "coating" and maybe those chemicals being pushed on consumers to purchase is more harmful than the granite it self. seriously most of us need to worry more about the fried foods we eat and the quality time we arent spending with our children than the beautiful granite God put on earth for us to beautify our homes!!
sue: great stuff!! "100% natural stone material Certified by The GREENGUARD® Environmental Institute and NSF International*, The Public Health and Safety Company™, as a safe and sanitary material. *NSF-51."
whereas sealing is topical which must be done atleast 2x yr permasheild is a maintenance free treatment for the end consumer.