July 28, 2008

Radioactive Granite--Who Can I Blame?

[By Crabby]

(Photo: NancyHugoCKD)

Have you seen the rather depressing article in the New York Times about how our kitchen countertops are going to kill us all one day?

OK, it didn't exactly said that. The article was specifically about granite countertops--most of which are apparently only a little bit radioactive.

Gosh, that's reassuring.

The article goes on to talk about scary things like radon emissions and lung cancer. And it notes that the EPA has been getting more and more calls from homeowners and radon inspectors lately, saying they're getting "radiation measurements several times above background levels" from their granite countertops.

“It’s not that all granite is dangerous,” said one expert, “but I’ve seen a few that might heat up your Cheerios a little.”

Of course there are conflicting quotes from various sources, some saying the risk is so minimal you should worry more about being struck by lightning; others saying any radiation exposure is a bad thing, and that some countertops are really freakin HOT. (And not in a good way).

According to the EPA's radon guide, radon is "a cancer-causing, radioactive gas," something you'd probably rather not have much of in your house. And it's not just granite countertops: "radon comes from the natural (radioactive) breakdown of uranium in soil, rock and water and gets into the air you breathe."

Yikes. I'm kind of attached to the air I breathe and would have difficulties giving it up.

The only way to know if you have a radon problem, either in your countertops or your house generally, is to test for it. Doesn't matter if you don't have granite surfaces and live in an area without a known problem, you could just be unlucky and have this creepy stuff silently poisoning you even as you're scurrying around making sure you're using green cleaning products and fragrance free toiletries and eating only organic food.

Great. Another new scary might-give-you-cancer thing to worry about. My list is ridiculously long already, guess I might as well throw radon on there too.

Fortunately, if you're concerned, you can test for radon yourself. Apparently there are inexpensive test kits out there, though none of the helpful radon sites I went to seemed to link to where you could order one. I'm thinking testing might make more sense than worrying, so I may need to spend a few minutes on Google to find a good test kit--unless any of you radon-savvy folks have recommendations.

But anyway, I was not thrilled to read about the killer granite countertops. When we moved to the East Coast this spring we did some renovations on our new place. And one of the first things we did... can you guess? Yep, we replaced the aging synthetic something-or-other countertops with brand-spankin'-new granite countertops.

Who's to Blame for the Shocking Health Hazard in our Home?

Blaming "mother nature" for a "natural radioactive breakdown" is a bit unsatisfying. Perhaps we could fault the governmental regulatory agencies for not warning us, or the granite countertop makers for not testing the stuff to make sure it was safe before sending it to our houses?

But that's the same old rant again, right? Let's look for another culprit, one that may be lurking in your house too...

Hmm, why did we pick granite countertops in the first place? Why not go with, say, ceramic tile: a humble but durable material we were perfectly happy with back in our old California place?

Here's why: we watch HGTV.

And the reason we may now have a radioactive kitchen is because the Home and Garden Network bullied us into putting in granite countertops!

It's true. They made us do it!

Have you ever watched HGTV? Whether it's a show about searching for a home, buying a home, selling a home, or renovating a home, one is left with a consistent message: Should you ever want to sell someday, no one will ever, ever buy your place if your kitchen does not have granite countertops and stainless steel appliances.

Who made up this stupid rule? What if you don't even like stainless steel or granite? Well, tough luck. Doesn't matter. Buyers "expect" it, so you better have it.

We know, of course, that this is the height of idiocy.

In fact, we scoff at these shows--the way they insinuate that we should toss out perfectly good appliances because they are the wrong color. We laugh at spoiled young couples who wouldn't think of living in a house unless it had ginormous walk-in closets and bathrooms the size of bus stations.

But... we also couldn't help paying attention. Having just sold, bought, and remodelled ourselves, we were fascinated by the whole subject. House shows are like porn for the middle-aged, and you don't even have to draw the shades to watch it.

Some of the shows are like little morality plays. Hard work pays off! Greed gets you in trouble! Look before you leap! Use your head before spending money!

We really didn't want to be that family who replaced their dining room with an indoor hot tub--and then couldn't figure out why their house wouldn't sell.

So when we realized the aging countertops in our new place needed to go, how could we ignore the constant HGTV imperative to buy granite? To ignore that would to become those poor hot tub people.

But I do wish at least one of the hundred times they mentioned a glorious granite countertop, they could have maybe slipped in, "on the down side, it might give you lung cancer?"

Maybe it's about time to just turn off the tv.

Anyone else have thoughts on the increasingly carcinogenic world around us, the lure of home and garden shows, kitchens, remodeling, or anything else?


  1. Yep. I was never so thankful not to be able to affordeth the granite than while reading the times.

    Everything is gonna kill us, huh?

    (Oooh except the LOVELY pic of SemiCharmedWife! How great what that article on blogher, too?)


  2. Oh for Dog's sake. Nothing heats up my Cheerios more than these insinuations of fear.
    Water will kill us all on it's own. Seems to me a too-rich oxygen mixture has a bad side, too.
    Eventually it is going to be found that found that everything has a down side, even a killer side, to it. It's simply a matter of developing the test to find it. That said, if the measurements are really high some places then that situation ought to be addressed. There's no point in trying to be healthy whilst inanimate objects plot their revenge.
    Otherwise, I say reject the fear.

  3. LOL, I was just about to write what your first commenter did. Guess it's a good thing I'm too poor to redo my kitchen!

    Maybe that will be the next housing sales pitch: BONUS: Too poor to update the kitchen - healthier for you!

  4. Interesting, I'm usually not too worried about the "latest" thing that's gonna kill us since i like the "everything in moderation" way of life.

    But....kitchen counters are what we prepare our food on, let our kids sit on, not to mention that we spend so much time in the kitchen just leaning on the cournter. I think, if i had granite, I might have to have it tested. Maybe they will start making lead tableclothes or something....i'm sure there's money to be made. Thanks Cranky!

  5. No granite here however that's only been for financial reasons so far. I must admit however after reading your post I would probably heavily reconsider and would seek out an alternate to granite (if I were doing a home makeover).

  6. Wow, I'm so glad I'm so cheap! Except, of course, they'll figure out that the glue that holds down the formica countertops is worse than having granite. Sigh.

    Great post, Crabby! Gotta love the middle-age porn channel....:)

  7. Redoing the kitchen...$$$$$

    Using Formica with black appliances...priceless!!

  8. I refuse to check for radon. Sometimes, ignorance is bliss.

    While we're on the subject of killer environments...a while ago our newspaper had an article about some kind of mold or fungus that causes migraines and asthma. Turns out that it's a big problem among the upper-class because their homes are just too darned draft-proof. If you have loose, rattly windows that lets the wind whistle through your house, you're safe.

    Let's hear it for the health benefits of poverty!

  9. Baglady, I was just thinking about that glue. So many adhesives are not especially healthy.
    Lucky me--I don't like granite.
    Indoor hot tub? That house would certainly sell to me!

    Mary Anne in Kentucky, where we have limestone

  10. We just put in granite counters 2 years ago and my husband won't let me test them b/c there's no way we're ripping out those suckers now. I grew up between a power line and an interstate, so I figure I'll have cancer by the time I'm 40 anyway. What's a little uranium? ;)

  11. I heard about this study the first time about three months after I splurged on a granite kitchen island counter top. Argh!

    Girl, you KNOW I live for HGTV porn. BTW, I am still waiting for those tile pics! ;-)

  12. LOL - Oh man, great post. My in-laws called as soon as 20/20 was over and were so worried about us and our countertops.

    I'm off to drink my killer coffee, stand in front of the microwave while my plastic container heats up eggs, then maybe I'll drink some cow's milk and hopefully I'll be able to make it through the day with all that poisen. LOL.

  13. Lately I've been an HGTV addict, as our living room needed re-doing and I needed ideas (love "Color Splash"!).

    I was surprised to learn that we won't be able to sell our house because we don't have granite countertops (have you noticed that they always show the open-house-folk commenting on the granite/non-granite countertops?), stainless steel appliances, nor travertine tile in the bathrooms.

    You also need to have REAL wood floors - no carpet; and laminate is apparently tacky (though the laminate we just installed is beautiful). And you need to re-do your house about every 5 years, to keep it salable.

    I am that one person that doesn't like stainless steel appliances, travertine tile or anything that looks like it, and I haven't seen a granite countertop I like yet. I've never been especially trendy, and in this case it looks like that's a good thing.

    I guess I should be glad we have no plans to move - we wouldn't be able to afford to fix up the house to sell it!

  14. Wow, you just made me love my nasty powder-blue 80's laminate so much more;)

    Love these 'scare' stories. Although anything that makes my mom turn off HGTV is probably a good thing.

  15. OMG everything's going to kill us! Stop breathing people!!

    (Yes, I'm too cheap to have granite in my kitchen too so I'm not really worried.)

    Seriously, I think we really need to weigh up the issues because otherwise we'll have to live in a bubble in case something kills us, and really, is that a life?

  16. We're all doomed, doomed I tell you.

  17. it's like when i redid my bathroom. no one in the family takes baths, i HATE cleaning bathtubs and, yet, according to my sister (a real estate broker), when the time came for us to sell the house, we'd have a hard time selling it because of no tub. i hated to give in, yet i did. and i'm stuck with a tub that takes way too much space in the already not-so-big bathroom, instead of the beautiful shower area that i had envisioned.

    granite countertops.... beautiful and deadly.... who would've thunk it. and, yes, hgtv is to blame .. LOL!

  18. Just goes to show you.. you can't take anything for granite...

  19. I read the article the other day and now when making coffee in my very, very old kitchen, I don't even notice where the formica is worn.

    df Bag Lady, you had to mention the glue--now I'll worry about that!


  20. Granite and especially other perty hard stones like most marbles have been used to decorate kitchens and other architectural spaces for millennia. The Romans were famous for it--they paved everything they could with that stuff, even the counters and facings of their bars. So this definitely isn't a new trend. Well, the radiation is but not the decor.

  21. Yikes! What next? :/

  22. *plugging her ears and closing her eyes*

  23. It's odd...I think I'm one of the few that actually doesn't want stainless appliances. Black is nicer to me - I've worked in too many restaurants to see how hard they are to keep clean...and they remind me of work :). As long as I have a gas convection oven (my prrrrrrreciousssssssssss) I'm happy.

    I didn't know about the whole radioactive granite thing tho...what if you got cultured rock instead? I've always wanted slate. Is slate bad too?
    Oh dear...perhaps I'll just get a hazmat suit then...

    I'm with you on the home reno porn...I don't watch much TV but I'll watch reno shows all night if you let me!

  24. You mean I don't have to draw the shades anymore??? Whew!!

    Thank God for my tacky 1970's white-with-gold-flecks-countertops!!! No radon poisoning for me!

    I'll just ignore the glue-poisoning comments and live my blissfully ignorant life in peace.

  25. I suspect the danger is being hyped out of proportion. Nevertheless, I'm glad of my fifties-era tile countertop. It could use a re-grout and a few tile replacements, but at least it's not hazardous to my health. Not until the next government study, of course.

  26. Jesus Christ. Reports about "toxins" in this or "poisonous" that are usually easy for me to take with a grain of salt or just ignore, but RADIATION?! That just freaks me right out.

    Good thing I live in an apartment. :)

  27. Well I don't have granite countertops or stainless steel appliances. We have soapstone counters, reminds me of a chem lab, but I didn't choose them, and we've gotten several compliments on them. Our appliances are black, and a PITA to keep clean looking. The previous homeowners must not have used their kitchen at all.

    We had our house tested for radon before we moved in, so I'm going to live in peace for awhile.

    I wish the cable company would let you choose 5 channels because I swear we only watch HGTV, DIY, Food Network, and BBC America. Sometimes HGTV will just stay on all day as we wonder around the house doing nothing.

  28. Eek, attack of the killer countertops!

    Sounds like a really great 80's horror movie.

  29. I probably already have 8 types of cancer. Our area of the city is known having radon, so we have a randon-mitigation system, which basically equates to an uber expensive fan that blows the radon from our basement out into the world. Seems like a crock to me.

    Oh, and I've only replaced about half of my cleaners with green ones, and we used regular paint, not the low VO2 stuff.

    Seriously, how am I even alive now?!

  30. This seems kind of like the plastic water bottle craze a couple months ago. There are bad chemicals in the plastic water bottles, but not enough to really make it a big danger. So I'm not going to worry too much about the granite....except for the fact that I do have stone countertops, I just have NO idea what kind of stone they are! I bought the condo already done and haven't changed anything in it. It does give me pause. But I'll probably be too lazy to test it...

  31. As has already been stated, the world has been living with granite forever.

    Most of us grew up with lead paint, pesticides and asbestos, so if we are going to get cancer, it is already there.

  32. whew! Good thing our new place doesn't have that radioactive counter top anymore!

    and I am also hooked on those renovating shows, mostly because I am waiting for them to show up at my house with new (free) appliances, carpet, and paint.

    anyone? Anyone?

  33. i don't think there is any way to escape all the potential dangers out there. I am starting to look at it like this.....control what we can like our eating and exercise and we have a leg up on the battle.

  34. Rebecca? Hate to say it, but when I was house hunting the lack of a bath tub was an immediate reason to cross the house off my list.

    You're not the only one who is pro-shower though -- I saw several houses that lacked a tub, so there must be plently of people out there who would think "hot diggity! no tub to scrub!" and snap up your house ASAP.

  35. We're in the middle of a kitchen remodel even as we speak and last week, after much lamenting, finally decided we could not afford the granite countertops right now (since we also need to put in new hardwood floors).

    Maybe that's not such a bad thing ;-)

  36. Oh, I was going to add that I had a cancer diagnosis but no granite countertops (just cheap HomeDumpo) though my sister has granite and no cancer.
    I'm thinking there's a law suit here somewhere.

  37. Phooey! I do so long for a granite counter top, but now I'll be paranoid that radioactive waves will be oozing from it and into my body!

    Stupid media! Never is any fun.

  38. that's why i always preferred marble.

    wait, they do make marble countertops, right?

    i have no clue what i'm talking about. don't mind me. all i know is i will probably never be able to afford granite or marble, so it doesn't even matter.

  39. Since you moved to the east coast, you might also have a cinder block basement. The radiation coming from those can blacken a radiation worker's badge half way through the month.

    It's naturally occurring radiation that we humans have been living with for centuries. Any material that comes out of the earth is likely to be radio active.

    I don't give it a 2nd thought.

  40. I've started eating less processed food, for fear of the chemicals and carcinogens and crap that I am ingesting...but I never considered my countertops as dangerous!! A (scary) reminder of how unaware we are of what can affect us....

    I wish my dining room was a hottub.

  41. I have family that comes from Broken Hill, an Australian town that hosts a lead mine and has fro the length of it's existance. The people living there take it for granted that you don't rest food on any surface that has been exposed for more then 15 minutes. They don't drink water that hasn't been purafied (they've also been in drout for over 40 years) and they wash there hands after touching anything. And the town stil has one of the highest mortality rates in Australia.
    Granit counter tops are nothing to worry about.

  42. It's hard to get some kind of rational balance between appropriate caution and outright fear.

    Mostly I think that everything in the news is hype and largely not worth taking seriously at all.

    On the other hand, in a family with absolutely no history of cancer, my mother just died of ovarian cancer, and my uncle (on the other side) died of pancreatic cancer a few years ago. The only thing that they really had in common was living in roughly the same place for a few months every year of their lives. But not with granite countertops.

    And so, maybe there's deep meaning to that, and maybe it's just one of those statistical blips of nothingness. Like all the other reports.

  43. In reality what no one tells us is that granite is gorgeous but often impractical for people who actually use their kitchens to cook, as are stainless steel sinks and appliances. The former stain, the latter scratch. They are stunning to look at but a pain to take care of, and I'd rather have marble (which scratches and stains too) or tile and porcelain. The glue under old formica finishes outgassing after awhile and shouldn't be a problem.

    For myself I wouldn't worry about radiation from my granite if I had it, radiation is everywhere, and people still live near Chernobyl (not that they don't have problems!). It's just that there is nowhere that is truly safe from everything, and we carry around some sort of genetic time bomb anyway. I feel it's more likely that a bus that hits one while crossing the street (metaphorically) is more likely what we have to watch out for.

    For those of us who are older and lived this, and for those who are younger and grew up with even more stuff in their food and air,I give you Bucky Covington's :

    A Different World

    We were born to mothers who smoked and drank
    Our cribs were covered in lead based paint
    No child proof lids no seat belts in cars
    Rode bikes with no helmets and still here we are, still here we are
    We got daddy's belt when we misbehaved
    Had three TV channels you got up to change
    No video games and no satellite
    All we had were friends and they were outside, playin’ outside

    It was a different life
    When we were boys and girls
    Not just a different time
    It was a different world

    School always started the same every day
    The pledge of allegiance then someone would pray
    Not every kid made the team when they tried
    We got disappointed and that was all right, we turned out all right

    No bottled water, we drank from a garden hose
    And every Sunday, all the stores were closed

    It was a different world...

  44. I guess that gives a whole new meaning to the fact that I would die for that kitchen.

  45. 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,

    We have a lot of info on the topics available.




  46. yes it's true that not all the granite emits radon. There are various good radon test devices available in the market which can be use easily by anyone.


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