Answer to Question #7834 Submitted to "Ask the Experts"
Category: Environmental and Background Radiation — Granite and Stone Countertops
The following question was answered by an expert in the appropriate field:
My daughter and her husband and their six-month-old baby boy live in a 1,000-square-foot condo. Shortly before the baby was born they had granite countertops installed in the kitchen. Recently I've learned that there may be a potential health hazard, especially for the baby, coming from the gamma radiation and the radon being emitted by the granite. We are greatly concerned and want to have testing done to measure both the radiation and the radon. I have contacted a laboratory to do the radon testing, but I have been unable to find anyone who will test for gamma radiation. What are the dangers and what are the suggested remedies?
You are not alone in your concerns about the health hazards of granite countertops. Since The New York Times ran an article on this issue in July 2008, we've received many similar questions.
In response to these concerns, the American Association of Radon Scientists and Technologists has prepared a position statement that discusses the risk from radon. The statement notes that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) does not believe that there is evidence that granite countertops significantly increase indoor radon levels. You can read more about the risks of radon at the EPA's Web site.
Another response to these concerns was issued by the Health Physics Society. This document discusses the differences between measuring for radon and measuring for gamma radiation on the countertop surface. It includes much technical discussion, but the bottom line is "no action needs to be taken to remove granite countertops in existing homes. If there are concerns by the homeowners, appropriate radon concentration monitoring should be conducted in living areas of the home (per EPA protocols). If the granite countertop is determined to be a cause for concern, the most risk-reducing and cost-effective action to take would be to remove radon from the air throughout the home rather than remove the granite countertop."
This is consistent with the EPA's position that the most significant source of radon in homes is from gas in the soil that is drawn indoors. Uranium in the soil produces radon gas, and the gas moves up into homes through cracks and other holes in the foundation. Homes can trap radon inside, where it builds up. The EPA and the Surgeon General recommend testing all homes below the third floor for radon.
Unlike radon testing, measurements of gamma radiation from the granite will not provide you with useful information about health hazards. Gamma radiation measurements simply provide an exposure rate at the countertop surface, which is difficult to translate into a meaningful measure of health hazard to humans. They do not tell you about the average radiation dose to occupants of the home.
Given your concerns about potential health hazards in your daughter and son-in-law's home, you have done the most appropriate thing by contacting a laboratory to do radon testing in the home. The radon measurements they make will tell you if there is any health hazard from the granite countertops or other possible sources of radon in the home.
I hope this helps resolve your concerns.
Environmental Health Physicist
Answer posted on 20 January 2009. The information and material posted on this website is intended as general reference information only. Specific facts and circumstances may alter the concepts and applications of materials and information described herein. The information provided is not a substitute for professional advice and should not be relied upon in the absence of such professional advice specific to whatever facts and circumstances are presented in any given situation. Answers are correct at the time they are posted on the website. Be advised that over time, some requirements could change, new data could be made available, or Internet links could change. For answers that have been posted for several months or longer, please check the current status of the posted information prior to using the responses for specific applications.