WRAL Investigates

Granite counters pose minimal cancer risk

Posted August 26, 2008 3:15 p.m. EDT
Updated August 26, 2008 10:04 p.m. EDT

— Sleek, smooth granite counters pose little cancer-causing risk to homeowners looking to upgrade their kitchens, according to experts.

Despite online reports of granite counters emitting potentially dangerous radon, state officials maintain – and tests confirm – the counters give off little of the radioactive gas. Radon occurs naturally as uranium breaks down in stone and dirt. Long-term, concentrated exposure can cause cancer.

Kenneth Taylor, assistant state geologist with the North Carolina Geological Survey, said he seriously doubts radon from most natural stone counters is enough to hurt anyone.

"Almost all igneous rocks have some small amount of radiation," Taylor said. "(Still,) you'd probably die from something else other than granite countertops."

Thousands of homes in eastern and northern Wake County already sit on miles of granite underground, but the area has seen no major radon health risk, he said. Isolated high readings are usually linked to the soil and can be alleviated through ventilation, he said.

"For people that have a concern about this, have it tested if that gives them peace of mind," he said, noting that some exotic stones might pose a higher risk.

Felix Fong, chief of radon management for the state Department of Environment and Natural Resources' Radon Program, said he has tested more than a dozen granite samples provided by concerned homeowners and hasn't found any difference between those samples and background readings.

All of the Geiger counter tests were about 3 to 4 percent of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's threshold for radon exposure, Fong said.

Even using a high-tech radon detector on a sample of granite counter that had been enclosed in a car for 30 minutes, limiting air dispersion – didn't show an elevated reading.

"The best thing is test for radon in your home. That's the only way you can find out," Fong said.

Testing for radon is relatively easy. Professionals can conduct the test, or test kits can be purchased for $5 to $15 from the state or a home improvement store. Readings are taken over a two- to five-day period.

Duval Fisher of Raleigh, who invested in granite counters months ago, wanted her kitchen tested to ensure her 15-month-old daughter wasn't being exposed to radon.

"Hearing about what could be in the air from the countertops made me worry and think, 'Is that in our countertop?'" Fisher said.

Granite retailers said such concerns have been hurting their business lately.

WRAL News brought in certified tester Zyg Gromadski of Radon Testing Labs to check Fisher's home.

Gromadski makes a living helping people deal with radon coming from the soil under their homes, but he said he hasn't come across a dangerous kitchen yet.

"The number of granite countertops you're going to find that are actually going to be a radiation hazard are few and far between," he said, noting he found nothing unusual in Fisher's kitchen.

"What we're seeing (on the readings) is basically normal background. There's very little radiation coming from the granite countertop itself," he said.

"That's a nice feeling of relief," Fisher said.