Radon in granite imports worrisome
Well let’s see, it’s hurricane season, the Anna Maria Island Bridge is getting ready to shut down, gas is still around $4 a gallon and last time I checked the terrorists were still out to get us. At least we Floridians could always take some solace in the fact that there isn’t much radon under our feet – one less thing in a dangerous world to worry about. Not so fast. You might be hard pressed to find radon contaminating our sandy soil, but if you look about four feet off the ground, you might be surprised.
According to Wikipedia, radon is the invisible, radioactive atomic gas that results from radioactive decay of some forms of uranium that may be found in rock formations beneath buildings or in certain building materials. It is a colorless and ordorless gas and is, therefore, not readily detectable by humans.
In addition, radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer, after smoking, and is especially dangerous to children and developing fetuses. Sections of the country that are built on rock and do not have Florida’s sandy soil are far more likely to contain radon gases. Homes in these areas are routinely tested for radon gas leakage prior to the sale of the property.
So what’s the problem, not much rock in Florida? Well, it now it appears that the popularity of granite countertops, which has grown in the last decade, is presenting homeowners with the potential of bringing radon right into their kitchens and bathrooms.
As the demand has ballooned so have the variety of granite available with some companies offering as much as 900 kinds of granite from 63 countries. And, therein, lays the problem.
The increase in volume and diversity of granites has introduced more exotic and striated varieties from all over the world that haven’t been seen before. Some of these varieties are testing "hot" for radon; that is they contain high levels of uranium, which is radioactive and releases radon gas as it decays. Brazil and Namibia are two of the countries whose granite imports could contain high levels of radon.
As in all disputes regarding health, there are always varying opinions. Allegations that granite countertops may emit dangerous levels of radon and radiation have been raised since their popularity has increased. The granite industry’s position is that the amount of dangerous gases is not enough to pose a health threat. Most health physicists and radiation experts agree, at the same time pointing out that there is no known safe level of radon or radiation and any exposure could increase your health risk.
Nevertheless, the Environmental Protection Agency increasingly has been receiving calls from homeowners and radon inspectors about granite countertops with high radiation levels. There has been so much chatter about an emerging problem that the Marble Institute of American plans to develop a testing protocol for granite in order to present scientific facts to potential customers. And it hasn’t taken long for the personal injury lawyers to get on board with Web advertising for clients who think they may have been injured by countertops.
If you’re concerned about your granite countertops, you can have them tested for about $200. The American Association of Radon Scientists and Technologists (aarst.org) provides a list of certified technicians. You can also purchase a do-it-yourself radon only testing kit at hardware stores or online from the Environmental Protection Agency’s Web site. These home kits do not, however, test for radiation.
I don’t know if this issue has any real legs and if it will have any future affect on the sale of homes with granite countertops. It’s just one more thing to worry about and one more decision to make when renovating or purchasing a home. When did living get so complicated?