Is Your Kitchen Counter Radioactive?

Recent news reports have blamed granite countertops for releasing excessive amounts of cancer-causing radon into homes. We dig into the debate and give you some greener, healthier options.

by Megan Oeill

The Bad News:

It used to be that microwaves, chemical-filled cleansing products, and pesticide-ridden veggies were the biggest health hazards in the kitchen. Now, there may be reason to worry about granite countertops: Turns out they could be radioactive. Granite, like any natural substance extracted from the Earth, has the potential for containing uranium, a metal which is radioactive and releases radon gas as it decays. Plus, several media outlets including the NY Times, have recently reported on accounts of granite counters emitting potentially harmful levels of radon. So while you're fixing up dinner on your granite counters, you could be breathing in a known cancer causer: Inhaling radon gas (which is colorless and odorless) can lead to lung cancer. While not every slab of granite is guaranteed to be loaded with uranium, there's still a risk you could have "hot" counters in your home.

The Good News:

Before you go ripping out your (probably pricey) granite counters, you may want to keep in mind that scientists have been aware of granite's uranium content for decades, yet the substance is still deemed safe and installed in buildings around the world. Plus, granite manufacturers and industry organizations like the Marble Institute of America are quick to point out that a lot of the recent concern has stemmed from studies conducted by those with a financial interest in building materials other than granite. Still worried? Have your kitchen tested for radon. You can buy DIY testing kits online and at some hardware stores for less than $30, or call on a professional to measure the levels for you (contact your local EPA Regional Office to find a pro in your neighborhood).

The News You Use:

There's no denying that radon exposure is a serious health risk. According to the EPA, 20,000 people die each year from lung cancer caused by radon exposure, which is the second leading cause of lung cancer, right behind smoking. Radon has been found in homes in all 50 states, and it's believed that one home in 15 in the U.S. has elevated levels of radon. It's important to test your entire house for the gas, though, and not just focus on one surface or building material, says Tom Kelly, the EPA's Head of Indoor Air Quality容specially a material like granite that the EPA feels is much less of a radiation threat than more common sources like soil and groundwater. Check out the EPA's Citizen's Guide to Radon for important information on testing your home, as well as what you can do to lower radon levels (like installing ventilation systems) should those measured in your home exceed more than 4 "picocuries per liter of air" or "pCi/L."


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