Granite experts discuss issues concerning radon

Granite experts discuss issues concerning radon

Recent news stories have fueled debate about radon in granite, and so we asked highly rated countertop installers to talk about it. Radon occurs naturally in many materials, including granite. At levels exceeding 4 picocuries per liter, radon can be deadly and is the second-leading cause of lung cancer. The Environmental Protection Agency believes all homes should be tested for radon, although they don't believe sufficient data exists to conclude granite countertops pose a health risk.

Do you think granite countertops are dangerous?

Bob Richie: Everything that comes out of the earth has a certain percentage of radon. The key component is, how much does it have? The level is very minuscule in granite and practically nonexistent. It presents no hazard, according to scientific studies cited by the Marble Institute of America. It's not affecting our business; in fact, granite sales are very high right now. Kitchens are still the most valuable rooms in your home, and nothing sells your home better than granite.

Lance Taylor: In May, the University of Akron released a study that measured radon released by 13 granite types. The stones they studied added only 7 percent - or less - of the amount of radon to the house. In our state, the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources has committed resources to evaluating this subject and informing the public. Radon is a naturally occurring radioactive gas found throughout the environment, and exposure to extreme amounts over an extended period of time can cause cancer. But it's released by hundreds of common household items, including bananas, nuts, smoke detectors and televisions. It's also slowly released by glass, dirt and stones - including granite - as they break down over time. If I believed there were any health risks to my family, I'd immediately rip out and replace all granite in my home. I have no plans to do so.

Robert Kennedy: There are radioactive emissions from everything around you. Granite has been around for millions of years. It's a natural substance. It's cut out of the earth and is the most durable surface you're going to have in your home. So, honestly, yes it's possible there's radon in granite countertops. There's never been any study that says granite countertops cause harm to people. I think this stems from other countertop companies initiating a little smear campaign because of granite's popularity. I'm not worried, and I don't see that it will hurt the business.

Do you test granite for radon levels?

Richie: Granite goes through radon tests when it's being taken out of the ground - even before it reaches the consumer. It'd be a considerable waste of money for a homeowner to regularly get their granite checked for the level of radon emissions. It's not necessary.

Taylor: With help from the chief of radon management for NCDENR, I've measured radiation released by granite slabs from 12 different quarries [we use]. There wasn't a significant difference between the radiation released by the slabs I tested and the concrete floor we were standing on. The chief of radon management stressed that testing had limited value because the additive impact of radon emission from granite countertops is best measured with regard to the radon already present in a specific home environment.

Kennedy: No, I depend on the industry and my suppliers to do the testing and publish the information for me to read. I think if there's any testing done by any company, it's a gimmick. You can't read the levels of radon with a Geiger counter. They're so minute.


What can a homeowner do?

Richie: There's no such thing as cutting out radon emissions in your home. You can't omit something that's in nature. Granite is a good investment because it's practical, beautiful and unique, and you never have to replace it.

Taylor: They can purchase a home radon test kit. If the tests indicate that radon levels exceed the EPAnvironmental Protection Agency's acceptable levels, a number of corrective actions can be taken to improve ventilation in the home, including installing vent fans. If they're building a home, consumers should discuss radon mitigation construction techniques and related building codes with their homebuilder.

Kennedy: We have a Green Seal product that will virtually eliminate any radon emissions and give your countertop a lifetime seal. We have a primer to prepare the surface, and then we apply the sealer. If you have counters that are stained, we'll use a product called Extract to get the granite looking beautiful again before we apply the Green Seal. It really helps to ease customers' minds. Editor's note: Some experts disagree about the efficacy of seals to reduce radon emissions.

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