27 July 2008

GRANITE, RADON AND CANCER – MEDIA HYPE OR MAJOR PROBLEM?

IMAGE: The Uba Tuba granite shown here was chosen for its beauty and compatible style, durability and potential home value enhancement in a recent kitchen project I designed. Happily, it is also among the lowest radon-emitting granites on the market today.


Yes, the truth is that granite can raise the radon levels in your home. And yes, radon in significant quantities is a serious cancer risk. So… Are are your granite countertops going to give you cancer? It’s highly unlikely, as most emit radon in minute amounts, amounts far lower than the soil beneath your home.

Dr. David J. Brenner, director of the Center for Radiological Research at Columbia University in New York, told the New York Times in an article that published on July 24, 2008, that the cancer risk from granite countertops, even those emitting radiation above background levels, is “on the order of one in a million.” You’re likelier to be struck by lighting, he added.

Dr. Brenner does add, though, “If you can choose another counter that doesn’t elevate your risk, however slightly, why wouldn’t you?” I think that question may be most appropriately asked by those with compromised immune systems, especially by smokers and cancer survivors. There are numerous benefits to owning granite countertops that I’ll get into shortly.


RECOMMENDED PRECAUTIONS

If your health has been compromised or you’re pregnant, and now becoming concerned about the radon levels in your granite countertops, this one-page fact sheet from a company that specializes in radon detection may be helpful to you, as can its link to the Environmental Protection Agency’s Consumer's Guide to Radon Reduction. A professional tester can either ease your concerns or accurately inform you as to the potential risk presented by your top.

The New York Times cites exotic stones that are just entering the U.S. market as potentially having higher radon content than the more familiar Uba Tubas and Giallo Venezianos that have been gracing so many American homes for years. Samples of the most widely-used granite patterns have already been tested and found within safe levels. A frank discussion with your granite supplier and kitchen designer would be a good idea if you’re considering an exotic granite.

In the meantime, for a healthy person, the risks associated with normal, daily American life – like car accidents, diabetes and heart disease – are far likelier to occur in your lifetime, and are totally unaffected by your countertop material. I still feel comfortable presenting it to my kitchen and bath design clientele.


BEYOND THE HYPE

Granite has been used as a building material for thousands of years. This might make you wonder why the long-known presence of radon in its composition is creating an uproar now. The simple answer is competitive pressure. Even the sometimes sensationalistic Fox News reported this sober business news item: “The EPA issued its new statements late Friday, following media reports citing junk science and inconsistent testing results, that created public concern about granite countertops as a source of radon gas.”

The New York Times piece mentioned above also notes: “Allegations 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.” Since these manufacturers are presenting one of granite’s potential negatives, let me present what I feel to be a more accurate and complete list, along with granite's many positive attributes.


GRANITE'S NEGATIVES

Granite is a natural, porous stone. Its porosity leaves it vulnerable to bacterial penetration and staining. You must keep it sealed.

Sealing adds an extra expense and chore to your life, albeit not a very expensive or time-consuming one. Home centers carry in-stock sealants, but acidic foods and liquids can eat through them if left standing on the countertops for long periods.

Granite can be costly. Not everyone can afford this material, even though wider availability has made it less expensive than in decades past.

Granite is extremely hard, so placing a glass on it as you would on a laminate or Corian-style countertop can crack the glass.

Granite can crack if subjected to excessive heat in the same spot repeatedly. Most people believe you can put a hot pot directly on it. You can if you must in an emergency situation, but you shouldn’t as a regular habit. Use a trivet to protect your tops.

Because granite is extremely hard, many people believe it’s OK to cut directly on it. I wouldn’t recommend this practice either. Granite is both porous, as mentioned above, so you can stain your tops or risk bacterial penetration, and so hard that it will dull your knives.

As granite is a product of Mother Nature, it does not come with a factory warranty. Some countertop suppliers – aka fabricators – offer a sealant warranty with stronger coatings, but that’s only as lasting as the economic health of the companies offering them.

Granite is rarely repairable. If it’s misused, you will almost certainly have to replace that entire section from a new slab.


GRANITE'S POSITIVES

Granite is one of the most beautiful materials available for your home and will enhance its style.

Each slab of granite is unique. Some are so distinctive that they add a personalized artistic statement to your room.

Granite is one of the most heat-resistant countertops available.

Granite is one of the most scratch-resistant countertops available; only a diamond or another piece of granite or quartz will cut it.

Granite countertops have a high perceived value, which can potentially contribute to an increase in your home’s market value.

Granite creates among the most durable countertop options available today. Only quartz rivals its hardness and longevity.


LAST WORDS

If you decide to choose granite for your home, please consider the following: Granite will only look as good as the fabricator’s skill and attention to detail allow. An unskilled installer will create seams that are highly visible, tops that are uneven from one section to another, poor pattern matching at turns, sloppy installation of undermount sinks, unsightly gaps and poor edging. So please think twice before you call the company posting street signs for $9.99 granite. You do get what you pay for in this area and talented trades truly earn their fees and referrals.

19 comments:

  1. To install granite woktops, you need to bring a sketch with very accurate dimensions or eliminate any risk by taking advantage of the dealer's professional measuring services.

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  2. Nice looking kitchen design. Your design is really nice also your kitchen tiles.

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  3. Great info in this post, thanks for your advice. This is a new information for me.
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  4. Marble Countertops is one of the most scratch-resistant countertops available; only a diamond or another piece of granite or quartz will cut it.

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  5. I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I dont know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.

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  6. Thanks for all the great comments, folks. Really appreciate it.

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  7. Great information. Thanks for sharing.

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  8. I think this is gonna be another one of those great unknowns. Maybe there is some risk, but until some team of scientists actually research it we will never know. Radon is a very dangerous substance, but unfortunately its everywhere, so if its doesnt get you in ya kitchen, its probably gonna get you in ya garden!

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  9. Radon gas has radioactive properties and can contribute to acute respiratory health risks, such as lung cancer (one in 20 will develop lung cancer due to elevated exposure1). This is especially true if you are a smoker or are exposed to second hand smoke on a consistent basis.

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  10. As with any hard materials, there must be some disadvantages. Let's hope that some other dangerous disadvantages will not be found.

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  11. Understanding these characteristics can help you decide whether granite counters are the right fit for your home and help you to care for them properly if you choose granite.

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  12. True, KB, thanks for sharing. Hope you'll visit agaain!

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  13. I just bought a house and it had dangerous radon levels. I had to get a radon filter system installed. I wonder if its from my granite countertops. Thanks for the great information.

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  14. Probably not, but I'm sure you'd rather be safe than sorry.

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    Replies
    1. Awesome work. It's really a wonderful post. I will definitely be visiting again.

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  15. The picture of the kitchen in the July 27, 2008 post, what kind of cabinets are they? I just love the kitchen! I would like to do something similar in style, but on a smaller scale.
    Thank you,
    Casey

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  16. Thanks, Casey. Those are semi-custom maple cabinets featuring a champagne stain with a chocolate glaze.

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  17. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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