Granite & Radon

Recently, a video has circulated online that has created widespread consumer confusion and concern about radiation levels occurring in granite used for residential countertops.

The report from Houston area not-for-profit BuildClean is raising fears about the dangers of granite countertops, and its preliminary results show that while most granite countertops in the study contain very little to no radon at all, the countertops that do contain radon have levels that are frighteningly high.

It has been reported that two major contributors of BuildClean are manufacturers of engineered stone.  One of those contributing manufacturers is said to have a marketing executive on the board of directors.  Is this a marketing ploy to switch consumers away from granite and toward engineered stone? I am not sure.

The Marble Institute of America (MIA) conducted a four-month study of thirteen of the most popular granites used for kitchen countertops in the United States during 2007 to refute claims that granite is harmful to consumers.

The MIA ‘s most recent testing was conducted by L.L. Chyi, a PhD and professor of Geochemistry and Environmental Geology at Akron University, Akron, OH.

Granite and most natural components found in building material, allows vapors to pass through them that might contain trace amounts of radon. However, for a compact rock with no internal porosity and fractures, like a polished granite countertop, only radium atoms in the very surface layer of countertop have a chance to generate radon atoms that escape quickly into the air of the nearby environment.

The MIA report did show their Crema Bordeaux sample tested higher (292 times) than the others.  The testing methodology was designed to measure the amount of radon which each granite type would add to the interior of a 2,000 square foot, normally ventilated home with 8 ft ceilings. The results show that Crema Bordeaux would contribute a concentration component of less than 0.28 pCi/L, or less than 7% of the EPA’s recommended actionable level of 4.0 pCi/L.

According to the Solid Surface Alliance Blog, Crema Bordeaux is one of the lower level Bordeauxs.  They claim Juparana Bordeaux, shortened to Bordeaux, is one of the stones that must be tested prior to purchase.

They say rarely do you see a Bordeaux below 50 uR/hr Gamma and that a level of 25 uR/hr Gamma would cause alarm with local officials.

They also claim the EPA, changed their position in May and now suggest homes with granite have radon testing done.  I could not find anything about countertops on the EPA website but in general they say all homes should be tested for Radon.

So from what may be perceived on the surface as another “going green” ad campaign, seems to be a different slant on the ongoing battle of the engineered stone manufacturers against natural stone.

UPDATE: The National Kitchen and Bath Association has issued a press release backing the Marble Institute of America.  You can read it HERE.

Update: Florida Department of Health says there are no state standards for testing granite.

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0 Replies to “Granite & Radon”

  1. Ann,

    One thing that I can compliment you on is that you’re looking at other sources for your information & not entirely relying on the MIA for your information. Good for you, but you don’t seem to fully understand the topic.

    Let me offer my .02. What the solidsurfacealliance blog is primarily concerned with is gamma radiation. And no matter the porosity or lack therof of the stone, if it has high concentrations of radioactive element(s) then it will emit radiation no matter what you do to it.

    What I have discovered is that some of the radioactive stones are coming from areas of high radioactivity. Like Niagara Gold for instance. Niagara Gold comes from Namibia & Namibia is the 5th largest producer of Uranium. I’ve tracked the stone down to quarry called Stone Africa which is about 8 – 12 miles from Rossing Uranium mine. There are about 4 (5 by next year) operating uranium mines in central Namibia & if you go http://www.mme.gov.na/pdf/licences-dimension-stones-1207.pdf & then http://www.mme.gov.na/pdf/licences-nuclear-fuel-1207.pdf you’ll see overlapping licenses for nuclear fuel & dimensional stone exploration.

    We’ve found a slab of Niagara Gold clocking in at over 400 uR/hr. (background is about 6 uR/hr) gamma. We found another clocking in at around 200 uR/hr. & we sent it off to a physics professor for him to check (It was incredibly hot, but we’ll let him go public with that, soon).

    We have a Bordeaux core analysis showing a level of 986 pCi/g for RA-226 & 128 pCi/g for RA-228. Thats Radium if you don’t know it yet. Its in the Uranium decay chain. When a oil & gas company wants to return a site to its original state, the EPA says it must be remediated to 5 pCi/g of radium or lower. At one point in time the EPA considered creating a standard for concrete for homes & they wanted to set it a 5 pCi/g of radium. Now if the soil that your house sits on has to be “cleaner” than your countertop, what’s wrong with that picture?

    As a kitchen designer myself, I want my customers to be safe. The last thing I want is for my customers to be exposed to potentially unsafe products. Which is why we research radiation in granite & conduct research on other materials that we put into our customer’s homes. But of course we have to weigh performance vs. environmental concerns but when there are hundreds of different types of countertop materials on the market, is there a need for potentially dangerous material when all it really is about is vanity?

    Thank you for bringing this topic to light. If you need any more information please feel free to email me.

    1. I have noticed you have mentioned savannah gold as being high in radon. We purchased it 4 years ago. I am very concerned and just ordered a radon testing kit. Where did you get your information about this granite?

  2. Ann,

    I appreciate your bringing this issue up for discussion, but there are some points I would like to address in your article.

    First off, Build Clean has not released any results from their testing, there are no “preliminary results”. The professor in the TV report has said that he found some alarming levels of radiation from granite countertops, enough so that he is currently testing a few dozen granites to see exactly how much radiation is being emitted. That is not as easy as one would think, to have an accurate reading, you have to know exactly what radioactive element is giving off the radiation from the granite countertop material. Then a correcting factor can be inserted, giving an accurate measurement.

    Secondly, one of the sponsors of the Build Clean group sells natural stone, the Sensa line sold in Lowes stores. One would think that were they interested in knocking a product, it would be one they didn’t sell. I would expect them to have a board seat, as long as they aren’t doing the testing themselves, I am fine with their involvement in leading the testing effort, after all, they themselves have some liability from past product sold. As long as the studies resulting from this effort are published in an accepted scientific journal, after peer review, they will be accepted as valid science by other scientists.

    The MIA did pay Dr. Chyi to do some testing, but it wasn’t peer reviewed and published. No reputable scientist will rely upon that test, nor will they quote it in their own published works. We were talking with a couple of labs last year about bacterial testing on granite. One of the suprises was that since we were paying for the study, we got to set the protocol for the test itself, samples to be used, methods used, even the form of the finial report. But it made sense, we were paying the bills, it wasn’t unbiased work that the scientists would publish, it was something for our own use. In the end, we decided a study like that would not be taken seriously. Nor should the MIA’s study be taken as anything but a PR piece. But let’s look at it a little closer anyway.

    To start with, it was not a four month study. They started in in mid Feburary 2008, after Build Clean popped up. They released the test results in mid May 2008. At best, a few weeks were spent on the study, more time in polishing the article used to spread the results. If I remember correctly, a week was the actual time frame, with a couple of samples having additional time allowed for some reason.

    As to the porosity of granite, those of us that work with it know most granites are porous, indeed if it were not, neither resining nor sealing would be possible. In addition to the outer most atoms of Radium emitting Radon, the edges and back are sources. Resining is done only on the very top of a slab, never on back, and fabrication exposes the edges after resining. Also, emission of Radon actually lowers the general radiation levels of the granite countertop. While a tight grain granite might allow the Radon to decay in place, the radiation emitted as the Uranium decay chain decays is emitted regardless of any sealing or resins, even the granite itself does little to lock in the radiation. As an example, it takes 1 inch of lead to stop half of the radiation emitted from a source. Four inches of lead still allows 12.5% of the radiation to pass through.

    Yeah, that little lead apron the dentist puts over you, it just makes you feel better.

    The Radon has little to do with any vapors passing through. Radon comes from the decay of Uranium, it is the 5th step in a 14 step decay chain, each step emits radiation till the Uranium has turned into lead 206. The Radon is continually formed, won’t stop for millions of years.

    The MIA’s study did show Crema Bordeaux emitting enough Radon to affect home levels, but while the testing itself was done well, the conclusions drawn had some serious flaws present. To start with, only 13 feet of countertops were used in the calculation. Less than half a slab of granite, when in a home that size, the kitchen alone usually takes a full slab, sometimes two. Add flooring, backsplash, and vanities in the home and you approach the real level of Radon being produced. And Crema Bordeaux is one of the lower level Bordeauxs, take that same result using Bordeaux and you are over 1 pCi/L additional Radon gas without adding more square footage.

    Also, look at the MIA’s own website and brochures on Radon and granite. They claim that a granite countertop emits less than 270,000 times less Radon than is present in out door air. In fact, out door air is usually around .4 pCi/L, which is 1.4 times higher than the Crema Bordeaux in the MIA’s own test! The MIA has a history of using unpublished work to support their claims, this one contradicts what they have been saying for 14 years!

    Still, the MIA report omitted one very important fact, that even .28 pCi/L has a death rate associated with it. The EPA says that 3 smokers out of a thousand would develop cancer from being exposed to .4 pCi/L of Radon, if you do the math, that means that 2.1 smokers would develop cancer from the .28 pCi/L from the MIA test. Non smokers would have a lower rate, only 4.3 people per 10,000 would develop cancer from that Crema Bordeaux that the MIA measured. Only .43 per thousand, a small risk indeed as long as you are one of the ones that develops cancer.

    Radiation levels that would cause concern with public officials is easily found online. Currently 33 states have NORM (Normally Occuring Radioactive Materials) laws. Few if any have actualy addressed granite countertop materials, after all, who in their right mind would sell a high radiation level material for use in a home? You can find limits on concrete, as low as 10 uR/hr for any one material in the concrete, 5 uR/hr for the entire mix is one standard we found. Oil and Gas law covers radioactive sludge or scale from equipment and pipe, 25 to 50 uR/hr causes concern. Landfills are also starting to survey truck loads of trash. At some states, 25 uR/hr will cause the truck to temporatily impounded till the state rad officer can investigate.

    Our current limit of 25 uR/hr gamma radiation (has nothing to do with Radon, Alpha or Beta) was chosen based on dozens of studies read and existing public laws on other products. Even 25 uR/hr can add some radiation exposure, 2 hours per day for a year would put you at 18.25 mR. The experts warn to keep any extra radiation exposure to 100 mR/hr if possible. Our position is that after warning consumers of the low level radiation and the possible health effects, it is there choice to use the product. Our workers would be exposed to around 1 mR from a 25 uR/hr slab, direct Gamma radiation only, and much of the granite we use is only 12 to 16 uR/hr, so the yearly totals is actually less than a homeowner would recieve. Besides, the workers know about the issues, they say were were the only employer that mentioned the risk. We cut all granite and quartz wet, grind and polish wet, have ventillation going at all times, and still make them wear the best quality dust masks on the market. Washing their hands at break and lunch are also required to prevent ingestion hazards.

    As to the EPA changing their position, for years they said not to worry about Radon emission from granite countertops. One of their Geologists sent us the chart they had relied upon, showing only 1.3 pCi/G of Uranium or Radium in granite. To put that in perspective, the Houston TV report granite slab tested at 1,100 to 1,200 pCi/G. To turn that into another unit I mentioned, you can take 95% of the total and the result is uR/hr. So the Juparana Bordeaux in the Houston report was at 1045 to 1140 uR/hr from the Radium alone. The EPA had requested a copy of that TV report a few days after it was aired, we contacted them with proof of even higher radiation levels granite countertop slabs a few weeks later. A copy of the EPA Geologist’s email is posted at the solid surface alliance blog site.

    The EPA’s current advice on Radon and granite countertops can be found here under FAQs on Radon

    http://iaq.custhelp.com/cgi-bin/iaq.cfg/php/enduser/std_alp.php?%20p_lva=&p_li=&p_accessibility=0&p_redirect=&p_page=1&p_cv=&p_pv=1.370&p_prods=370

    it is #21 on their list and can be found here as well.

    http://iaq.custhelp.com/cgi-bin/iaq.cfg/php/enduser/std_adp.php?p_faqid=5103&p_created=1212758208&p_sid=QK25wc7j&p_accessibility=0&p_redirect=&p_lva=&p_sp=cF9zcmNoPSZwX3NvcnRfYnk9JnBfZ3JpZHNvcnQ9JnBfcm93X2NudD0yMSwyMSZwX3Byb2RzPTM3MCZwX2NhdHM9JnBfcHY9MS4zNzAmcF9jdj0mcF9zZWFyY2hfdHlwZT1hbnN3ZXJzLnNlYXJjaF9ubCZwX3BhZ2U9Mg**&p_li=&p_topview=1

    The EPA does indeed say all homes should be tested for Radon, but granite is the only countertop material that has been specifically singled out as having definite risk of Radon emission.

    From my experience the last few months, I am less worried about the Radon than the direct Gamma radiation. I can open the windows every three weeks for half a day and prevent the radon from building up to maximum levels, although the point emission is always there. But there is no way to prevent the Gamma radiation from blasting through your body. Take a level of 100 uR/hr, that would be 100 Gamma rays per minute hitting the small crystal in the meter. A human size target would get 1,000 times more hits. 100,000 Gamma rays hitting your body every minute is not something I want to purchase along with a beautiful countertop. There are quite a few scientists on record saying that a single Gamma blasted cell can potentialy trigger cancer.

    In short, our position is that this issue is real, it isn’t going away, but regardless of the finail outcome on the testing, given a choice, most consumers would prever a 15 uR/hr granite countertop over a 1,030 uR/hr countertop.

    Thanks again for furthering the discussion on this issue.

    Al Gerhart

  3. Hi Ann,

    BuildClean, a 501(c)(3) organization in Houston, is dedicated to funding research and educating consumers and the building industry on safe, healthy and environmentally-friendly building products. Our exploration of radon and radiation emanation in granite is only our first project and consists of a 300-home study and third-party laboratory testing.

    BuildClean supports the MIA’s efforts to promote natural stone products and the professionals behind the industry; we do, however, advocate testing, especially for the consumer who is concerned about the health impacts of indoor building materials.

    Though BuildClean’s independent, in-home study is not yet completed, we have chronicled a number of homes with granite countertops emitting radon above the EPA action guideline for mitigation as well as radiation from slabs above EPA recommended levels. We do not, nor will we, advocate any knee-jerk reaction to “new findings.” There is enough evidence to support the testing of building materials for radon and radiation, just as we test for V.O.C.s, lead or asbestos. Why would it not be better to know before, not after, illness occurs? Certainly, it is in the best interest of builders and homeowners to take precautions.

    In addition, countries around the world, including China, Israel, Austria and Germany, test building materials for radiation levels and have developed regulations for the use of those products.

    If you would like to learn more about BuildClean, please visit http://www.buildclean.org. You can also find information on the EPA website regarding radon and granite countertops at: http://iaq.custhelp.com/cgi-bin/iaq.cfg/php/enduser/std_adp.php?p_faqid=5103&p_created=1212758208&p_topview=1.

    Sincerely,

    Sara Speer Selber

    President of BuildClean

  4. Thank you for your informative articles/blogs. Personally I prefer natural materials to manmade materials. Industry has put too many products on the market in my lifetime,65+ years, that are not only toxic but also create a disposal hazard even worse. If in doubt, the homeowner should wait for more studies before making a decision.

  5. When marketing a product, one expects a bit of hype. The idea is to show that the product is the best over the competitor’s line of product. That is the trade of advertisers and the history of marketing. Some tactics used to sell can be humorous or as serious as the competition between manufacturers. Marketing tactics that play on fears of the general public can be a very powerful tool.

    In the present day, there’s a very popular angle of “green.” This is prevalent everywhere in the media. So what happens when you mix a scare tactic under the guise of environmental concern?

    Buildclean found the answer to that question. The premise seems of the nonprofit organization seems to be admirable but the fact that the “awareness campaign” that Buildclean is currently using seems to be curiously slanted. In fact, the target seems to be the natural stone industry.

    When Sara Selber of BuildClean was asked how she got involved in natural stone and radon, she explained how she was approached by the owner of C&C North America, a company that produces two products – granite and a quartz product called Silestone®™.
    “C&C North America then recruited a quartz company called Cambria, after they learned quartz was an issue, she further explained that the two companies hired her to test quartz, granite and other surfaces for radon emission. Both companies are testing their products through BuildClean, and they contracted two labs – one in New York and one in Israel.

    We have looked all over the C&C website but cannot find any mention of natural stone.

    When ask what granites emit radon, Sara Selber said; “Not all granites emit radon or radiation. There are some that clearly do. There are some that absolutely don’t. We don’t know,” she said.

    They’re being set up as a non-profit, and they’re funded with two large donations.
    The first is $250,000 from the makers of ‘Silestone.’ They manufacture quartz countertops, which is a direct competitor to granite. Silestone finance records show that they started out in April of 1998 with a an initial investment of $410K, made there first million in 1998, sales in 2002 was over $70M, and sales in 2006 was well over $260M. it is not hard to see that they have the money to invest $250,000 in a new advertising campaign.

    BuildClean is also getting money from Cambria, another quartz manufacturer.
    In fact, Cambria’s marketing director is on BuildClean’s board of directors.

    When asked about the funding Sara responds: I don’t believe the issue is who our founders are. And I’m not going to have that debate.” That answer seems to be clear enough.

    In a recent interview Mrs. Selber mentions teaming up with Al Gerhart who has some interest in the granite radon scare.

    Al Gerhart is a carpenter whohappens to own a website called the Solid Surface Alliance .org. He educated himself, regarding materials he works with that may expose him to harmful elements.”

    Upon further review it seems this “personality” is well known for his view of natural stone. All one has to do is look at the website to get the gist of his viewpoint. Coincidentally, there also seems to be a new business venture for Solid Surface Alliance as the website now sells Geiger counters to detect radiation…
    His debates have earned him quite a place online in forums discussing the subject.

    After a certain debate on a well known residential forum, a renowned geoscientist in the industry concluded:
    “Al attempts to hijack debates by choking the system with verbal diarrhea. The problem appears to be that he has a bit of knowledge about some things but not enough sense and understanding of the subjects. In that debate on the Garden Forum he threw in so many fabrications (plain made up lies) that his credibility just plummeted to zero.

    Anyone who operates this way (by including a number of facts to gain an element of credibility in the eyes of a generally uninformed audience, twisting facts deliberately or because of his lack of understanding, and then throwing in a number of lies) does not deserve extended airtime. Many years ago when doing science psychology I still remember my professor giving the advice to his students that you should never engage a nutter in debate. You can never win an argument with such people. I recognized this early in the forum and that is why I would not engage him in “debate”.

    One of his major problems is that he does not know what the numbers mean and how they are derived.”

    In response to the buildclean tactics, The Marble Institute of America is in the process of doing their own independent study:

    “The Marble Institute of America (MIA) is grateful for the preliminary response from the members to the newly established Truth About Granite Fund. Based on this positive response, it’s clear that their colleagues share their commitment to protect consumers from needless fear mongering by establishing standards for the testing of granite so consumers can safely and comfortably enjoy the beauty, durability and practicality of this natural stone.”

    When we asked the MIA why Sara Speer Selber consider The Truth About Granite Fund as a draconian move that is being waged against BuildClean(TM), they simple responded:

    “The Truth About Granite Fund was established to help raise funds to develop unbiased, scientific standards for the granite industry, including the testing of granite for radon. No such standards currently exist in the natural stone industry. Previous tests of granite samples have found they are safe. However, the Truth in Granite Fund aims to take advantage of new, advanced scientific instruments that make testing both more practical and more accurate. Our goal is to make sure testing follows consistent protocols, so that future studies are meaningful and based on consistent, approved science – not isolated methodologies or unapproved instruments. Ultimately, our goal is to make sure the granite we sell is safe.”

    This latest sales tactic received the attention of an independent group called the Natural Stone Restoration Alliance (NSRA). The NSRA saw Radon testing as an added service that their members could provide to the homeowners along with all their other services for natural stone. Josveek Huligar, one of the lead testers and trainer for the NSRA , invited times Members of the Solid Surface Alliance dot org to discuss and provide proof of this threat to the home owners.

    The Solid Surface Alliance dot org agreed to provide an alleged radiation producing granite sample that they claim to have in their possession to do independent testing. After an initial agreement between the two groups it seems the Solid Surface Alliance dot org has reneged on the delivery of the alleged material. Mr Huligar was disappointed of the outcome. The NSRA than requested the name of the company that Mr. Gerhart claimed to just have rejected over 10k worth of radon producing granite. When the information was not provided, Huligar ask if he could purchase the next slab that Mr. Gerhart rejected. But for some reason Mr. Gerhart could no longer find a sample for testing. Mr. Huligar went on to say: “All we care about at this point. As for whether are not Stone adds a measurable amount of “radon” in a home, Mr. Gerhart had agreed to come to NY and pick out a hot slab that I would place in my own home after testing my home for radon. Once the granite was installed I would test my home again as described by the EPA and have it tested by someone approved by the EPA. Not only would we do the short and long term test, we would also video tape the whole event, the selection, the creation, the install, and than setting up cameras for anyone to view the stone and meters on the net. I was looking forward to do this, but at this time it appears that Mr. Gerhart has no plans on doing as he said which is a big disappointment.”

    The NSRA plans to push for this simple test, they feel that the consumers only care about one thing; “whether or not adding granite in your home would significantly change the radon levels in a home”. At present, the most prudent consumer should watch the outcome of this debate and make an informed decision, not taken in by a scare tactic by advertisers.

    EPA Confirms That Granite Countertops Pose No Significant Health Risk
    http://nsraweb.com/index.php/Latest/EPA_Confirms_That_Granite_Countertops_Pose_No_Significant_Health_Risk.html

  6. As entertaining as it is to hear Huligar refer to himself in the third person, his entire post is intended to mislead the public.

    Now you notice that Huligar had lots to say up until his Radon test started. Initially he claimed about 1 pCi/L increase in Radon levels. Not the 200, 400 or one million times less. But Huligar suddenly clammed up about the middle of November after he found out his test was defective, with a very leaky apartment allowing too much fresh air in the home.By the way, 1 pCi/L has a risk associated with it. The EPA calculates the 21,000 deaths per year from Radon from the national average in U S homes, 1.3
    pCi/L. Huligar’s 1 pCi/L would have a death rate of 16,000 per year if the national home level was 1 pCi/L. Hardly safe.

    Best keep looking for info on this topic rather than believe the stone industry. Way too much money at risk, plus the have sucessfully covered this up for the past 14 years. They can’t tell the truth, so they keep digging the hole deeper.
    If this was a non issue, neither the CRCPD (state radiation officials) nor AARST (radon scientists) would have committees seting maximum allowable radiation/radon levels for stones and measurement protocols. ANSI and ASME are also looking into the controversy for their organizations.

    On the radon issue, we have a full scale radon test going currently, over 10 pCi/L so far from only 18square feet of granite in a 96 square foot room. That is like smoking 1 1/2 packs a day,

    http://forum.solidsurfacealliance.org/viewtopic.php?f=7&t=98ST

    We have a lot of info on the topics available.
    forum.solidsurfacealliance.org
    solidsurfacealliance.org/blog
    solidsurfacealliance.org

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