“It’s not that all granite is dangerous. But I’ve seen a few that might heat up your Cheerios a little.”
Demand for granite countertops in new and renovated homes has increased exponentially in the past decade. In What’s Lurking in Your Countertop? this past week, New York Times reporter Kate Murphy discussed the claims and counterclaims concerning the possible health effects of this popular trend in kitchen décor.
“Allegations,” she writes, “that granite countertops may emit dangerous levels of radon and radiation have been raised periodically over the past decade, mostly by makers and distributors of competing countertop materials. The Marble Institute of America has said such claims are ‘ludicrous’ because although granite is known to contain uranium and other radioactive materials like thorium and potassium, the amounts in countertops are not enough to pose a health threat.
“Indeed, health physicists and radiation experts agree that most granite countertops emit radiation and radon at extremely low levels. They say these emissions are insignificant compared with so-called background radiation that is constantly raining down from outer space or seeping up from the earth’s crust, not to mention emanating from manmade sources like X-rays, luminous watches and smoke detectors.”
Despite these comforting realities, “with increasing regularity in recent months, the Environmental Protection Agency has been receiving calls from radon inspectors as well as from concerned homeowners about granite countertops with radiation measurements several times above background levels.” In some cases cited by Ms. Murphy, there has been rational cause for alarm.
None of this is reason enough to rip out your granite countertops immediately, reject a planned kitchen renovation out of hand, or pull out of a contract you have on a new home. But it is a strong argument for making an informed decision about any of these matters.
If the topic is relevant for you, check out Ms. Murphy’s balanced article. If you need further information, the Environmental Protection Agency offers a variety of handy summaries on the health risks of radon and frequently asked questions about radon and indoor air quality. The EPA also has a number of related documents available, including The Home Buyer’s and Seller’s Guide to Radon, the Citizen’s Guide to Radon, and the Consumer’s Guide to Radon Reduction.
Information is power – even in the kitchen.