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Many homeowners are increasingly worried about the level of radiation they may be getting from their granite countertops. Granite is very popular as material for buildings and homes, especially as kitchen countertops because of their beauty, durability, and function. Some granite countertops have dangerously high emissions of radiation, particularly radon gas. This is a colorless gas that comes from decaying uranium. It is associated with high risk of developing lung cancer. The question is, is this growing concern based on scientific evidence?

Here are some important facts about granite and radiation that any homeowner should know

Fact 1: Radon is dangerous

Radon gas is undoubtedly dangerous. Research indicates that is only second to cigarettes as the leading cause of lung cancer. People that smoke are especially at risk, because their lungs are already vulnerable to the disease. Children and developing fetuses are also in danger when exposed to high levels of radon gas as well as other forms of radiation.

It should be noted, though, that research into the levels of radon gas and radiation in general from granite indicates that granite does not put human health at risk. While it is possible that a granite countertop that exhibit high levels of radioactive emission can put anyone that regularly comes into proximity to it for at least two hours a day, it is highly unlikely. Some experts consider it less dangerous than flying frequently, or spending a considerable amount of time in a basement or anywhere close to the soil where uranium is always present in small amounts.

Fact 2: Granite contains radioactive materials

However, it is undeniable that granite does contain radioactive materials, some more so than others do. Granite is the most abundant type of natural stone in the world. It forms as a result of magma cooling over millions of years under intense pressure and heat. According to the Marble Institute of America (MIA), granite is comprised of many elements. Including uranium as well as other radioactive materials such as thorium and potassium. However, these radioactive materials are typically present in such tiny amounts that they are negligible. In fact, all natural stones of any type contain radioactive materials as a matter of course. Despite this, they pose no danger to humans. Granite may pose even less of a threat than marble or limestone, because granite is a lot less porous. Any uranium that may be lurking in its depths will have no opportunity to release any radon gas it produces.

Homeowners should also realize that the absence or presence of radioactive emissions of any level does not mean that they are safe or dangerous. The Nuclear Information and Resource Service states, “All life on Earth is exposed to and impacted by natural sources of ionizing radiation. …When a living being absorbs it, that individual has received a “dose” of radiation….one radiation particle can cause great damage to a single cell; that damage can even lead to a person’s death, while registering a dose to the total body of zero!” Even if you are exposed to higher than normal levels of radiation from granite, it does not mean you are going to die. The fact is, no one really knows precisely how and what the effect radiation can have on humans.

Fact 3: Radiation levels in granite are extremely low

Radiation and health experts agree the radioactive emissions of a vast number of decorative granite slabs are so low. They are negligible. They are less dangerous in this sense than what most people are exposed to from the soil or form cosmic radiation. The amount of radiation in granite is much lower than the radiation exposure from smoke detectors, X-rays, and the luminous dials in watches.

According to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the average person typically absorbs approximately 360 milliliter of radiation annually from manufactured and natural sources. It is estimated that people that reside in proximity to nuclear reactors get an added 100 milliliter a year. You receive an additional 3 milliliter of cosmic radiation every time you fly from Los Angeles to New York. The EPA puts the safety threshold for radon gas levels in the home at 4 epicures, which poses the same risk for lung cancer as half a pack of cigarettes.

Some people consider a granite slab or countertop that emits in excess of 10 times the normal radiation as “hot.” While it isn’t really hot, it refers to the risk of harm from radiation. In order for a “hot” granite slab to increase your radiation absorption by a fraction of a millirem, you would have to stay close to or touch it for an hour. Radiology researchers place the health risk posed by “hot” granite countertops in the order of “one in a million,” more unlikely than a direct hit from a lightning strike.

Fact 4: Exotic granite may be the problem

There is still the issue of the rising number of reports from both homeowners and radon inspectors of granite slabs going significantly beyond acceptable levels of radiation to the EPA recently. It is believed that this is the result of the introduction of exotic granite slabs into the US. MIA president Jim Hogan says, “We know the vast majority of granites are safe, but there are some new exotic varieties coming in now that we’ve never seen before, and we need to use sound science to evaluate them.” The MIA is currently in the process of addressing this problem by designing a testing protocol.

Takeaway

Granite and radiation is the flavor of the month for scaremongers, but many homeowners are not buying into the hype. Many, including those that have personal experience with granite with high levels of radiation, continue to prefer granite countertops.  Before installing any granite slab, they have it tested first.

The service fee of a certified inspector from the American Association of Radon Scientists and Technologists ranges from $100 to $300. Homeowners will rest more easily if they can get an assurance that their kitchen countertops are safe. They can also buy a home radon testing kit from the Environmental Protection Agency. The cost is about $20. It may be a waste of time or money, but there is no substitute for peace of mind.

References:

http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0265931X11000580
http://www.nirs.org/factsheets/mythmiliremfctsht.htm
http://www.nature.com/jes/journal/v20/n3/abs/jes200943a.html
http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0265931X10000202
https://www.epa.gov/radiation/granite-countertops-and-radiation

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