Skip to comments.Are granite countertops bad for your health
Posted on 05/22/2008 5:23:42 AM PDT by Huligar
In what seems to be a genuine concern of the effects of radon emissions in residential homes. A certain website from a non-profit organization out of Houston has made it a point to imply without scientific proof, that natural stone could be a major contributor of radon in a household.
The allusion that seems to be made, that natural stone installed in your home is dangerous to your health is raised repeatedly on the website and in a recent local Houston TV news program. Its interesting to note that the two major contributors of this non-profit organization are manufacturers of engineered stone. One of those contributing manufacturers has a marketing executive on the board of directors of this particular organization.
From what may be perceived on the surface as perhaps another going green ad campaign, seems to be a different slant on the ongoing battle of the engineered stone manufacturers against natural stone.
Keep in mind that granite as does most natural components found in building material, allows vapors to pass through them that might contain trace amounts of radon. There are very small amounts of uranium found in trace minerals such as biotite in some natural stones. When quarried if a large cluster of biotite is exposed the result initially would be a radon reading. However, once a piece of granite or natural stone exposed to a large amount of uranium rich mineral in the ground is removed from the source and exposed to the air, the radon vapor transmission would weaken drastically and then dissipate. Simply put, think of natural stone as a very dense sponge that allows water, air and yes radon to pass through the stone. Once the stone is removed from the source of radon (the earth) the stone has no radon to filter through it. We do endorse Radon testing but to allude that natural stone is a main contributor seems ludicrous.
Here are some facts about Radon:
WHERE DOES RADON COME FROM?
Radon comes from the natural radioactive decay of radium and uranium found in the soil beneath the house. The amount of radon in the soil depends on complex soil chemistry, which varies from one house to the next. Radon levels in the soil range from a few hundred to several thousands of pCi/L. The amount of radon that escapes from the soil to enter the house depends on the weather, soil porosity, soil moisture, and the suction within the house.
HOW DOES RADON GET INTO THE HOUSE?
Houses act like large chimneys. As the air in the house warms, it rises to leak out the attic openings and around the upper floor windows. This creates a small suction at the lowest level of the house, pulling the radon out of the soil and into the house.( Just as natural stone filters radon emission as mentioned before.) You can test this on a cold day by opening a top floor window an inch. You will notice warm air from the house rushing out that opening; yet, if you open a basement window an inch, you will feel the cold outside air rushing in. This suction is what pulls the radon out of the soil and into the house. You might think caulking the cracks and the openings in the basement floor will stop the radon from entering the house. However, scientific studies show, it only takes enough unsealed cracks or pin holes in the caulking to equal a hole 1/2" in diameter to let all the radon in. It is unlikely that caulking the accessible cracks and joints will permanently seal the openings radon needs to enter the house. The radon levels will still likely remain unchanged. Fortunately, there are other extremely effective means of keeping radon out of your home. Throughout the country, several million people have already tested for radon. Some houses tested as high as 2,000-3,000 pCi/L; yet, there hasn't been one house that could not mitigate to an acceptable level. The difference in reference to natural stone is that one the stone slab is removed from the source and exposed to the atmosphere the radon is vented in the same way ventilation of a house mitigates the radon emissions in the soil.
Levels of radiation from granite products, which technically are measurable, are in fact, small fractional values of established thresholds for environmental safety. The truth of the matter is that granite is a safe product. Its been used for thousands of years and the relationship between granite and radon has been studied for years and years. How safe is granite? There have been mathematical models developed that show that one could live in an all-granite home or building, including sleeping on granite, for an entire year and still be within very safe levels of exposure.
Calculations show that, if an average countertop, traps an average uranium concentration of four ppm (parts per million), the concentration of radon that is given off by the countertop into the household air would be 270,000 times less than the level of radon in the outside air. The maximum contact level that you would receive over one year if you were to sit on a countertop all of the time would be about one quarter of the annual radiation from all sources. If you were just a few inches away from the granite (such as when doing the dishes), the dose would be too low to measure.
To Quote Donald Langmuir, PhD, Professor Emeritus of Geochemistry, Colorado School of Mines, & President, Hydrochem Systems Corp. To show how laughable are the concerns of radon emitted from natural stone, the typical granite countertop in our example will release 7.4 x 10 -7 pCi/L of air. This corresponds to 2.7 x 10 -8 atom decays per second (dps). This represents 0.85 decays per year. In other words, less than one atom of radon is produced by the countertop in one year. This is hardly worth getting excited about. I would suggest that a good way to reduce our exposure to the radon present in outdoor air would be to build an air-tight house out of granite countertops! There are certain properties of rocks that can increase their radon emanation efficiency, or in other words increase the release of radon from a given weight of rock. These are rock properties that maximize the exposure of internal or external rock surfaces to water or air, allowing any radon gas to escape. The author of 'Granite and Radon' argues that such properties, which include rock porosity, fissuring and mylonitization, will increase radon releases. This is probably true, however, a granite with such properties would be too brittle to make into a countertop, and too open to take a polish, and so would not be marketable as a countertop - unless the rock pores were first filled with a chemical sealant. Such sealing would also eliminate any possible radon release problems.
In a more recent study that was conducted by L. L. Chyi, a Ph.D. and professor of Geochemistry and Environmental Geology at The University of Akron, Akron, Ohio. Dr. Chyi studied 13 of the most popular granites used throughout the United States as determined by an industry-wide survey. Due to their popularity these 13 granites, are believed to represent up to 85% of the granite countertop market in recent years. The granite types are as follows:
1. New Venetian Gold, Brazil; medium grained, yellow-beige gneiss with many dark red garnets 2. Uba Tuba, Brazil; A medium- to coarse grained, olive-green granite 3. Santa Cecilia, Brazil; A coarse-grained, yellow-grey gneiss with up to pie-sized, red garnets 4. Tropic Brown, Saudi Arabia; medium-grained, brown granite 5. Absolute Black, India; black basalt 6. Tan Brown, India; A black-brown igneous rock with big, shapeless, brown-red feldspar crystals 7. Giallo Ornamental, Brazil; coarse-grained, brown-yellow granulite with some brown-red garnets 8. Crema Bordeaux, Brazil; Juparana Crema Bordeaux (Brunello). A coarse- to very coarse-grained, pink to red granite with areas of quartz, alkali feldspar and quite a lot of ore 9. Baltic Brown, Finland; brown-black granite 10. Giallo Veneziano, Brazil; medium- to coarse-grained, ochre-yellow to golden-brown, also light pink, gneiss 11. Dakota Mahogany, USA; medium- to coarse-grained, brown-red granite 12. China Black, China, a fine-grained plutonic rock 13. Yellow Star, China, a medium-grained yellow to pink granite
The testing methodology was designed to measure the amount of radon which each granite type would add to the interior of a 2,000 square foot, normally ventilated home with 8 ft ceilings. The results show that Crema Bordeaux (the most active in terms of radon emissions) would contribute a concentration component of less than 0.28 pCi/L, or less than 7% of the EPA's recommended actionable level of 4.0 pCi/L. This radon amount is well below a level which might cause health concerns. Tropic Brown and Baltic Brown, second and third in radon emanation based upon Dr. Chyis testing, amounted to only 1% of this action level. The other granites tested added almost immeasurable amounts of radon to the house. Radon atoms in pore spaces and fractures are of minimal concern in the case of granite countertops
Dr. Chyis test results show that the granites that are currently found in the United States market place are insignificant contributors to radon levels in the home. Based on the testing results and EPA standards, we can conclude that the most popular granites used as countertop surfaces pose no health threat to homeowners. If proper resealing is applied once a year or at other frequencies determined by the industry, the radon emanation can be further reduced.
Daniel J. Steck, Ph.D. also ran a test on interior radon and granite, and this is what he had to say.
The average radionuclide contents of your building material samples are similar to other average granite samples and other common earth-derived building materials such as brick and soil. Thus, the amount of gamma radiation emitted from similar masses of these building materials will be approximately the same;
There is little sample-to-sample variation in the radon family radionuclide concentrations; the radon flux is somewhat larger for the counter-top squares than for the smaller samples. This indicates that the effective diffusion length is only on the order of the thickness of the counter-top samples, i.e. several centimeters. Thus, material thicker than 5 cm (2") most likely will not emit more than the counter-top samples.
While we feel that health safety is a great concern especially in our homes, for an industry to attempt to gain financially by scare tactics or under the auspices of Eco friendly is reprehensible. We urge the consumer to not be taken in by these alarmist tactics.
Only if one falls on you.
Personally, I’m going to mine $6,000 worth of countertop for $1.87 worth of GOLD content......
Mountain out of a molehill. The number of consumers who will make their choice between natural granite versus engineered stone based on “radiation” is so negligible as to be ridiculous. Granite countertops raise the resale value of a home no doubt. The fact is that 99.99% of the population could not tell the difference between natural and engineered stone if their lives depended on it. For most people it will come down to a question of price and being able to get the best bang for their buck.
In this case, I believe it’s actually the sky that is falling...
No, but bad for my bank account. If it were more affordable, I’d do it in a heartbeat.
The radon racket must feel overshadowed by the
global warming climate change racket.
While what you say is true, I have soapstone counter tops and what impresses people is that it’s real but they always ask first.
not every house needs a granite countertop just to jack the price up another 50k. not saying they used 50k matterials but I watch those flipping shows lots of times they put a new coat of paint , granite counter tops , travertine tile bump the price up 150k and then some wonder why a young families keep passing up their homes.
In order to keep the radon out, I filled all the cracks with asbestos. Then I applied a coat of lead paint.
I once had a slate roof. Replacing the copper gullies was expensive, and the way the did it was to smash the first row of tiles on either side.
The price would have been much higher if the tiles were red, instead of gray.
Yadda, yadda, yadda, the stone houses were built from the waste of the local cobalt mine.
And yes, I know there's a difference between a stone house and a couple of stone countertops in a wood house...
But now that I think about it, I wound if the cobalt slag houses had butcher block counter tops?
bump for later
I don’t care - my granite is gorgeous!
First off there is plenty of scientific proof that natural stone can emit enough Radon to raise the levels in homes, indeed any certified Radon tech will tell you not to place a detector on a granite countertop. Build clean has a dozen or two scientific studies from around the world on granite emitting Radon. Dozens of countries, Germany, Austria, every EU country, Canada, and a host of others including China limit the radiation levels in their building materials. To say that Build Clean has offered no proof is completely unethical. Hulligar is depending on people being too lazy to go look for themselves.
Yes, one of the sponsors is Silestone, but Hulligar neglects to mention that Silestone also sells the Sensa line of natural granite. Why would they say their own product needs testing? Because it does, they have a large potential liability hanging over their head from past sales and they are attempting to get the industry to start testing prior to sale.
“Simply put, think of natural stone as a very dense sponge that allows water, air and yes radon to pass through the stone. Once the stone is removed from the source of radon (the earth) the stone has no radon to filter through it.
We do endorse Radon testing but to allude that natural stone is a main contributor seems ludicrous.”
The above statement written by Hulligar is a bald face lie or complete ignorance if you want to give him the benefit of the doubt. Stone is indeed porous due to the shrinkage of the quartz as it cools from magma. The rest of the quote would be ludicrous if it wasn't completely untrue. The source of the Radon from granite is the uranium content that is slowly decaying in place, when it gets to about the fifth of 14 steps, it turns in to a noble gas, Radon, and can escape the stone through the fissures. Radon itself is not dangerous until it enters your lungs and decays, which gives off alpha radiation as the Radon turns into one of several elements in turn, bismuth, poloinum, lead isotopes, each in turn continue to emit radiation as it breaks down.
To claim that granite or any natural stone with an uranium content will somehow “air out”, is a bald face lie. The stone will continue to emit radon for millions of years to come.
In the original TV report, the scientist did say that if you open your windows for a half day every three weeks that will prevent Radon from building up to equilibrium, or the highest possible levels. But that does nothing to prevent someone near the granite top from breathing the concentated gas emitting from the source while using the granite countertop. So you can do as Hulligar says, use a small fan like a vent a hood to continually vent your kitchen, if you don't mind high utility bills to cool or heat the incoming air.
“Levels of radiation from granite products, which technically are measurable, are in fact, small fractional values of established thresholds for environmental safety.’
Another outright lie, numerous scientific studies have shown granites that exceed safe levels of radiation and Radon gas emission. In fact, the Chinese report that as much as 20% of their quarried stones fail to meet safe levels. China will not allow any high level stone to be imported either, they turn it away from the docks. On Youtube.com there are videos posted showing as much as 800 uR/hr of Gamma radiation coming off a granite countertop slab. Some colors like the Bordeauxs are generally hot, 100 uR/hr is common. Juparana Bordeaux was the material in the Houston TV story, I have the lab report on the countertop posted on a website showing over 950 pCi/g of radium! The EPA once thought that granite only had 1.3 pCi/g radium, but now they are recommending any home with a granite countertop have the home tested for Radon.
And that mathematical model Hulligar speaks of? An article paid for by the Marble Institute by a retired geologist, not a nuclear physicist. Not peer reviewed, not published, just a paid for opinion that met their propaganda needs.
Next Hulligar trots out the 4 ppm of uranium like it was an average. Try hundreds of ppm of uranium in some granite countertop materials. The mining leases for Uranium mines and granite counterop quarries over lap in many places. One of our suppliers found that there was a Uranium mine less than a mile and a half from one of his source quarries, which is why some types of his granite were too hot to sell.
And that bit about 270,000 times less Radon from granite than outside air? Hogwash, outside air usually averages .4 pCi/Liter and the MIA report (Marble Institute) showed one granite, a Bordeaux, emitting up to .28 pCi/Liter, about 70% of outside air! What happened to the 270,000 times less?
Next Hulligar quotes the MIA again, saying that a few inches of air will stop all the radiation. Bull...., on youtube there are videos showing the radiation reaching out three to eight feet. Even the Beta radiation will penetrate your body, much less the Gamma. One of the problems of surveying slab yards is that a hot slab can affect the readings of slabs ten feet away, you have to isolate a slab to get a true reading.
And these meters we used in these videos, well they are from 10% to 30% effective depending on the type of radiation and the energy levels. Far more radiation is hitting the meter than can be recorded.
And the most laughable quote of all
“This represents 0.85 decays per year. In other words, less than one atom of radon is produced by the countertop in one year.”
Do these morons not realize that every click on a geiger counter or scintillator is a decay of an atom? Some of the videos we posted show up to 4,000 counts per minute! The Houston granite countertop was at almost 1,000 cpm from the Radium alone. That granite top raised the Radon from near zero to 3 pCi/liter, thousands of decays per quart of air per minute.
Really, in the history of the internet, there has been no other group that has attempted to tell such blatent lies as the MIA and its minions. They are protecting a 14 year old lie, that granite has no radiation or Radon. Their own report by Dr. Chyi showed 292 times more Radon than some of the other samples. I shake my head in wonder at the pure b*lls, the shear size and scope of the lies being told.
I apologize for the long post, but every single paragraph of Hulligars post can be torn to shreds using scientific studies from around the world. And think hard about this, if the communist Chinese are willing to limit radionucliedes in their granite, why are we still allowing the high level granites to be sold to unsuspecting consumers here in the USA?
If it is so safe, why in the world are they opposing the testing????? Really, Hulligar, have some shame dude...
When marketing a product, one expects a bit of hype. The idea is to show that the product is the best over the competitor’s line of product. That is the trade of advertisers and the history of marketing. Some tactics used to sell can be humorous or as serious as the competition between manufacturers. Marketing tactics that play on fears of the general public can be a very powerful tool.
In the present day, there’s a very popular angle of “green.” This is prevalent everywhere in the media. So what happens when you mix a scare tactic under the guise of environmental concern?
Buildclean found the answer to that question. The premise seems of the nonprofit organization seems to be admirable but the fact that the “awareness campaign” that Buildclean is currently using seems to be curiously slanted. In fact, the target seems to be the natural stone industry.
When Sara Selber of BuildClean was asked how she got involved in natural stone and radon, she explained how she was approached by the owner of C&C North America, a company that produces two products granite and a quartz product called Silestone®.
“C&C North America then recruited a quartz company called Cambria, after they learned quartz was an issue, she further explained that the two companies hired her to test quartz, granite and other surfaces for radon emission. Both companies are testing their products through BuildClean, and they contracted two labs one in New York and one in Israel.
We have looked all over the C&C website but cannot find any mention of natural stone.
When ask what granites emit radon, Sara Selber said; “Not all granites emit radon or radiation. There are some that clearly do. There are some that absolutely don’t. We don’t know,” she said.
They’re being set up as a non-profit, and they’re funded with two large donations.
The first is $250,000 from the makers of ‘Silestone.’ They manufacture quartz countertops, which is a direct competitor to granite. Silestone finance records show that they started out in April of 1998 with a an initial investment of $410K, made there first million in 1998, sales in 2002 was over $70M, and sales in 2006 was well over $260M. it is not hard to see that they have the money to invest $250,000 in a new advertising campaign.
BuildClean is also getting money from Cambria, another quartz manufacturer.
In fact, Cambria’s marketing director is on BuildClean’s board of directors.
When asked about the funding Sara responds: I don’t believe the issue is who our founders are. And I’m not going to have that debate.” That answer seems to be clear enough.
In a recent interview Mrs. Selber mentions teaming up with Al Gerhart who has some interest in the granite \radon scare.
Al Gerhart is a carpenter whohappens to own a website called the Solid Surface Alliance .org. He educated himself, regarding materials he works with that may expose him to harmful elements.”
Upon further review it seems this “personality” is well known for his view of natural stone. All one has to do is look at the website to get the gist of his viewpoint. Coincidentally, there also seems to be a new business venture for Solid Surface Alliance as the website now sells Geiger counters to detect radiation
His debates have earned him quite a place online in forums discussing the subject.
After a certain debate on a well known residential forum, a renowned geoscientist in the industry concluded:
“Al attempts to hijack debates by choking the system with verbal diarrhea. The problem appears to be that he has a bit of knowledge about some things but not enough sense and understanding of the subjects. In that debate on the Garden Forum he threw in so many fabrications (plain made up lies) that his credibility just plummeted to zero.
Anyone who operates this way (by including a number of facts to gain an element of credibility in the eyes of a generally uninformed audience, twisting facts deliberately or because of his lack of understanding, and then throwing in a number of lies) does not deserve extended airtime. Many years ago when doing science psychology I still remember my professor giving the advice to his students that you should never engage a nutter in debate. You can never win an argument with such people. I recognized this early in the forum and that is why I would not engage him in “debate”.
One of his major problems is that he does not know what the numbers mean and how they are derived.”
In response to the buildclean tactics, The Marble Institute of America is in the process of doing their own independent study:
“The Marble Institute of America (MIA) is grateful for the preliminary response from the members to the newly established Truth About Granite Fund. Based on this positive response, it’s clear that their colleagues share their commitment to protect consumers from needless fear mongering by establishing standards for the testing of granite so consumers can safely and comfortably enjoy the beauty, durability and practicality of this natural stone.”
When we asked the MIA why Sara Speer Selber consider The Truth About Granite Fund as a draconian move that is being waged against BuildClean(TM), they simple responded:
“The Truth About Granite Fund was established to help raise funds to develop unbiased, scientific standards for the granite industry, including the testing of granite for radon. No such standards currently exist in the natural stone industry. Previous tests of granite samples have found they are safe. However, the Truth in Granite Fund aims to take advantage of new, advanced scientific instruments that make testing both more practical and more accurate. Our goal is to make sure testing follows consistent protocols, so that future studies are meaningful and based on consistent, approved science not isolated methodologies or unapproved instruments. Ultimately, our goal is to make sure the granite we sell is safe.”
This latest sales tactic received the attention of an independent group called the Natural Stone Restoration Alliance (NSRA). The NSRA saw Radon testing as an added service that their members could provide to the homeowners along with all their other services for natural stone. Josveek Huligar, one of the lead testers and trainer for the NSRA , invited times Members of the Solid Surface Alliance dot org to discuss and provide proof of this threat to the home owners.
The Solid Surface Alliance dot org agreed to provide an alleged radiation producing granite sample that they claim to have in their possession to do independent testing. After an initial agreement between the two groups it seems the Solid Surface Alliance dot org has reneged on the delivery of the alleged material. Mr Huligar was disappointed of the outcome. The NSRA than requested the name of the company that Mr. Gerhart claimed to just have rejected over 10k worth of radon producing granite. When the information was not provided, Huligar ask if he could purchase the next slab that Mr. Gerhart rejected. But for some reason Mr. Gerhart could no longer find a sample for testing. Mr. Huligar went on to say: “All we care about at this point. As for whether are not Stone adds a measurable amount of “radon” in a home, Mr. Gerhart had agreed to come to NY and pick out a hot slab that I would place in my own home after testing my home for radon. Once the granite was installed I would test my home again as described by the EPA and have it tested by someone approved by the EPA. Not only would we do the short and long term test, we would also video tape the whole event, the selection, the creation, the install, and than setting up cameras for anyone to view the stone and meters on the net. I was looking forward to do this, but at this time it appears that Mr. Gerhart has no plans on doing as he said which is a big disappointment.”
The NSRA plans to push for this simple test, they feel that the consumers only care about one thing; “whether or not adding granite in your home would significantly change the radon levels in a home”. At present, the most prudent consumer should watch the outcome of this debate and make an informed decision, not taken in by a scare tactic by advertisers.
EPA Confirms That Granite Countertops Pose No Significant Health Risk
I wish I saw this a while back. As you know we do not claim to know it all and all we had at the time was the research of others. As time has pass we set up our own test kitchen with a confirm hot slab but not just a hot slab, but the hottest to be tested to this date. We also spoke to the guys who deal with this stuff each day. here is a cut and paste of what we came back with.
"Thanks for waiting. I just got back from Vegas where the people who come up with programs to deal with Radon and Radiation were having a conference and one of the topics was building materials.
I personally spoke to Stanley P. Liebert of CMT Laboratories who denied any direct or indirect correspondence with our Al or the SSA. Mr. Liebert went on to say that the only thing that he is hoping to point out is the fact that 10 out of the 2000 granites emit some radiation. This however, does not directly translate to what we have been reading on the web. That is, if you have a slab that has some traces of radiation it will give off radon with in the next ten generations. Mr. Liebert is also the proud owner of granite as well. He thinks its crazy for someone to remove a counter top simply because of one area that may show a reading.
I also had the pleasure of speaking with Erik Listou of Build Responsible, Gary Hodgden of AAIR Professionals, Bill Brodhead of WPB Enterprises Inc, and Shawn Price of Air Chek, Inc. These guys gave me a crash course in radiation and radon while confirming that we had the hottest stone measured to date.
Everyone that I spoke to all had the same conclusion. At this time the radiation from natural stone has no significant bearing on the radon levels in a home. It was also explained and demonstrated that the meters on the market are not the best tools to go hunting for radon coming from natural stone. The areas of a slab can be easily avoided or even removed if deemed necessary.
In the NSRA test kitchen, the numbers before the installation were all very low. All were less than 0.3 pCi/l on the days of testing (about as low as anyone can measure.)
The test kit in the hall was 0.6 pCi/l The test kit hanging in the door way was 0.8 The test kit hanging from the cabinets was 0.7 And the one we hung 12" over the "hottest" spot was 1.0 pCi/l
This test was done in a way to make sure we got the highest readings possible. We now intend on testing the home as if we were simply testing for radon in the home."
The testing will begin 09/16/09 and you can view it live online Live Radon Test Kitchen
If anyone cares to see Al Gerhart back peddle and trip over his own words, you can click on his name.