Granite Countertops a Recipe for Danger?
Debate Heats Up About Radon Risks
July 30, 2008 -- They are beautiful and durable, but do those pricey granite
kitchen countertops so popular with home builders and renovators also pose a
Some researchers say they might, but a group representing the granite
industry counters that those claims are “alarmist” and that their studies are
little more than “junk science.”
At issue is whether some granite countertops emit dangerous levels of
radiation, especially the gas radon, which is the second leading cause of lung
cancer after smoking.
Experts agree that most granite countertops emit some radon and even other
types of radiation. The question is whether they do so at levels that can
impact cancer risk.
New York State Health Department research scientist Michael Kitto, PhD, says
only a small fraction of the granite samples he has tested have emitted radon
at levels that were over those considered safe.
But he added that a few of his samples showed levels that were high enough
to alarm him.
“I wouldn’t have them in my house,” Kitto tells WebMD.
Countertop Concerns Not New
Concerns about the safety of granite kitchen countertops are not new.
“The countertop story emerges every 10 years or so,” Columbia University
Center for Radiological Research Director David J. Brenner, PhD, tells WebMD.
“This is about the third time I remember it coming around.”
The concerns were fueled by a New York Times story last Thursday
examining the issue.
The story mentioned the research of Rice University physics professor
William Llope, PhD, which found potentially dangerous levels of radiation in
some tested samples of granite used in countertops.
In response to the Times article, the Marble Institute of America
(MIA) issued a statement on its web site asserting that the Environmental
Protection Agency agreed with the industry claim that studies like Llope’s
represented “junk science.”
Under the headline “EPA Confirms that Granite Countertops Pose No
Significant Health Risk, Undercutting ‘Junk Science’ Fear Mongering,” the
article claims that the EPA issued a statement on Friday saying as much.
While confirming that a Q&A on the EPA web site addressing the radon and
countertop issue was changed late last week, EPA spokesman Dave Ryan refused to
discuss the institute's claim in an interview with WebMD.
“I will not comment on anything that they are saying,” he said. “All I will
say is that our position is on the web site.”
That position, as of early this week, was much more nuanced than the
institute claims, noting that “some granite used for countertops may contribute
variably to indoor radon levels.”
“At this time, however, EPA does not believe sufficient data exist to
conclude that the types of granite commonly used in countertops are
significantly increasing indoor radon levels,” the statement reads.
In response to the question, “Are the levels of radon in granite dangerous
to humans or animals?” the EPA states, “While radon levels attributable to
granite are not typically high, there are simply too many variables to
generalize about the potential health risks inside a particular home that has