Think twice about ripping out that granite countertop because you think it'll give you cancer.
Chances are, one of the most durable, easy-to-maintain and fashionable kitchen countertop materials to come along in decades really won't "heat up your Cheerios" with radiation.
The Marble Institute of America says such comments are "ludicrous" because, while granite is known to contain uranium (which can produce radon) and other radioactive materials like thorium and potassium, the amounts in countertops are not enough to pose a health threat.
Alarms set off by a recent New York Times story "What's Lurking In Your Countertop?" can be quickly silenced by a 2008 report the newspaper failed to mention: "Radon Testing of Various Countertop Materials," by the University of Akron (Ohio) Department of Geology and Environmental Science.
The school sells education. Not granite. Not newspapers.
The analysis of radioactivity in 13 granite samples concluded flatly "Adapting the 4 picocuries per liter of air as recommended by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (the EPA recommends taking action if the number is higher) as a reference and the house is not in active use, Crema Bourdeaux (a type of granite) countertop raises less than 7 percent of this action level. The second and third highest radon count stone, Tropic Brown and Baltic Brown can add only approximately 1 percent of this action level. All other countertops adds only insignificant amount of radon to the house. If normal air exchange rate is applied or the house is actively used, then the radiation should be much smaller....If proper resealing is applied once a year or at other frequencies recommended by the industry, the radon emanation can further be reduced."
Here's the scoop.
The late July Times' article begins with the story of a New Jersey woman who purchased a summer home in New York state. An inspection of the kitchen revealed elevated levels of radon, a radioactive gas that can cause lung cancer.
The homeowner, concerned about her pregnant daughter's exposure, immediately has the granite ripped out.
The story reports the comments of the inspector the homeowner hired, "It's not that all granite is dangerous, but I've seen a few that might heat up your Cheerios a little."
But it's not until half way through the story that readers learn the readings in the kitchen were 100 picocuries per liter, only enough to add a fraction of a millirem per hour (a measure of energy absorbed by the body) "provided you were a few inches from it or touching it the entire time," the story says.
The story concedes, "The average person is subjected to radiation from natural and manmade sources at an annual level of 360 millirem , according to government agencies ... . To put this in perspective, passengers get 3 millirem of cosmic radiation on a flight from New York to Los Angeles."
A rebuttal from the Marble Institute of America says the story "follows the playbook used by two of the largest synthetic stone manufacturers who seek to increase their own sales by raising fears about natural stone."
The institute also says the story fails to mention venting as an EPA recommended solution for and radon infiltration. The institute also says the story seeks to excite rather than provide academic or scientific information.
Says the institute, "The piece fails to point out that repeated studies have found that granite most commonly used in home countertops is safe. Instead, it vaguely mentions one or two stones that someone deemed to be problematic, then goes on to suggest that the only solution is to remove granite from the home."
The EPA calls radon "The Health Hazard with a Simple Solution" and suggests anyone with concerns take the sensible approach and contact their nearest state or regional Indoor air-quality agency for help with radon testing and remediation.