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Granite Countertops a Recipe for Danger?

Debate Heats Up About Radon Risks

Little Cause for Alarm, Expert Says

Columbia’s Brenner believes it is highly unlikely that granite countertops emit enough radon to pose a health risk because they cover such a small area.

“The biggest source of radiation within the home is indeed radon,” he says. “But it is not radon from countertops, it’s radon from the ground.”

Radon is an odorless, tasteless, colorless radioactive gas that results from the natural decay of uranium in soil, rock, and water. All agree that the biggest risk to homeowners is radon seeping into homes from the ground.

Most people living in areas with high radon concentrations, such as New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and upstate New York, are very aware of the potential risk, Brenner says.

“You can’t get a mortgage in New Jersey without having a radon test,” he says. “If radon is above a certain level, you have to take action.”

The risk from radon comes from breathing it into your lungs, and Brenner says any radon coming from granite countertops would quickly diffuse into the air.

“Even a countertop that is ten or a hundred times higher than average is going to constitute a minimal contribution of radon.”

Others Believe Fears Are Justified

But Rice University’s Llope is not so sure.

Llope tells WebMD that he began testing granite samples “on his own time” after seeing a story about granite countertops and radon on a Houston news program.

He tests for gamma radiation emission using a special spectrometer.

In a recently published review of radon tests conducted by others, Llope reported that 92 of 95 granite samples tested emitted no radon or very little radon. Two samples emitted levels that were elevated but still considered safe, and one emitted levels slightly above what is considered cause for concern by EPA.

Like Kitto, Llope has found elevated levels in a very small number of the granite samples he has personally tested.

But he tells WebMD that if even a tiny percentage of the granite used to make countertops emits unsafe levels of radon or other radiation, that could represent a danger in thousands of homes.

“Granite has gotten so popular so quickly that it is now coming from all over the world,” he says. “It would come as no surprise that granite that comes from areas with uranium mines close by might pose a problem. But the testing hasn’t been done.”

More Granite Testing Needed

According to Marble Institute of America spokesman Jim Martinez, 2,000 different stones from quarries around the world are sold as granite in the United States.

At most, only a tiny percentage of them have been tested for radon or radiation levels, but a recent test of 13 types of granite typically used for countertops found no radon or very low levels of radon.

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