Radioactive Countertops:Fact or Fiction

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Granite countertops have been a coveted kitchen feature for years, and it’s no wonder. Of course, granite is highly recognizable for its luminous shine and its beautiful variety of unique color combinations. This natural material also boasts impressive durability—it is quite literally “as hard as a rock” because, well…it is a rock. Granite is formed within the earth over time, as molten rock is slowly compressed and crystallizes, creating the attractive patterns that make granite such a popular building material.

However, the same factors that make granite a widely used construction choice have also given it some negative press over the last several years. Questions have arisen as to whether granite countertops could bring unsafe levels of radiation into homes. The very word “radioactive” might have some readers ready to tear out their kitchen countertops or cancel their kitchen upgrades, but these claims should be put into context.

Radiation is an imposing word, but, according to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, some radioactive elements could be found in almost any type of rock or soil. Some exposure to radiation is unavoidable. It is found in the soil beneath homes, the air in and around homes, and in ground water. Every rock or area of soil is composed of different naturally occurring elements, so radiation levels vary widely, even within the same type of stone. As radioactive elements decay, the resulting gas, radon, is slowly released into the air. In high concentrations or over prolonged periods of time, this exposure is harmful to humans.

So, if granite is rock, and rocks can produce radon, is granite dangerous? To put the danger of granite countertops in perspective, the EPA says that the soil a house is built on poses a far greater risk of radon exposure than granite countertops. Radon.com (who is in the business of selling radon test kits) breaks down the most common sources of radon, and soil, air, and water produce over 97% of radon that humans are exposed to, noting that just 2.5% comes from building materials, of which granite is only one of many.

But, just because a granite countertop is an uncommon source of radiation, is it still a risk? The EPA puts fears to rest by clearly stating that it is “extremely unlikely” that granite countertops would contribute to an increase in the already existing radiation levels in a home. They even note that granite is less likely than some other rock types to allow radon to escape because it is so compact and hard.

In short, attempting to avoid radiation by avoiding countertops might be compared to trying to diet by cutting out celery, or trying to get rich by picking up pennies. Yes, pennies are money, and yes, celery may have a couple of calories, but overall, these actions would have no perceptible effect on the larger goal. In the same way, granite countertops have been deemed to make no notable contribution to the radiation already existing in homes from other sources. While it may be wise to check a home’s radon levels, chances are that a high rating has more to do with what the home is built on than what has been built into it.

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Comments 4 comments

Lady Guinevere profile image

Lady Guinevere 2 years ago from West Virginia

I never heard of this and thanks for bring it up. I have hardwood flooring as my counter tops.


FlourishAnyway profile image

FlourishAnyway 2 years ago from USA

You provide some wise counsel. (It's good to have a radon detector just in case! Might be good for an Amazon capsule?)


Better Yourself profile image

Better Yourself 2 years ago from North Carolina Author

Lady Guinevere - I have not heard of hardwood flooring for countertops, interesting and I'm sure beautiful! Thanks for stopping by!


Better Yourself profile image

Better Yourself 2 years ago from North Carolina Author

Thanks FlourishAnyway for the feedback and for taking the time :)

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