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Concern Over Granite Countertop Radon Emissions Gaining Steam

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New York, NYAs the debate rages over the potential for radon exposure from granite countertops, the concern has moved into the mainstream media: lawyers are sizing up litigation strategies with the expectation of lawsuits stemming from an expensive (for most people) amenity.

The issue concerning granite countertops and radon remains controversial, with health advocates and the granite industry at odds over just what the danger, if any, might be.

Granite CountertopNo one argues the point that granite emits radon. Scientists have long known that granite emits minute levels of radon, given that it is quarried from the ground.

The issue remains: just how much radon constitutes a health hazard—and how can something so expensive and sought-after, wind up causing people so much consternation?

And why now?

Granite countertops have been around for decades—but not to the degree by which they are currently popular, and available. Once upon a time, granite was reserved for the wealthy, and the potential for radon emissions just never made it onto the radar. However, in recent years granite has become more commonplace as the largest wave of the baby boomers hit middle age and began investing in their homes, and the demand for granite increased.

Suddenly, granite countertop radon emissions are top of mind—and this month, what began as a series of independent newspaper reports back in the summer morphed into a segment on the TODAY show on NBC earlier this month. The debate rages surrounding the real risk.

The concern is that, while the vast majority of granite countertops that have been tested emit levels of radon far below a threshold that would be considered a hazard, some samples have tested higher than others. On the TODAY show, a physicist from Rice University who has been studying the issue tested 20 home samples and found most to be completely harmless. However, Bill Lope reported on NBC's TODAY that in a few samples that he had measured, levels were too high to be considered safe.

He said that spending years in a kitchen with a granite countertop that emits significant amounts of gamma radiation could cause damage to cells, and ultimately cause cancer.

Radon, it was reported, can cause lung cancer if breathed in over time. The problem, it was reported on TODAY, is that it's virtually impossible to know which slabs are a problem based on appearance, or country of origin.

Thus, owners of granite countertops—and they now number into the millions—face the onerous task of testing in order to know with any certainty the potential for a risk to their family's health.

Given the fact that the kitchen remains the most common gathering place for most families, the concern is not without foundation.

Not surprisingly the granite industry plays down the concern, and counts the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as one of its allies. The EPA maintains that "most types of granite are not typically known to be major contributors of radiation and radon in the average home."

However, in an effort to quell consumer fears and defend its franchise, it has been reported that the industry is developing the means to screen all granite slabs for radiation before they leave stores.

Meanwhile, the potential for litigation is very real. For many homeowners unaware of the radon issue, the realization that their countertop would emit some amount of radon would come as a shock, and for many the first inclination would be to banish the offender from the home, at substantial cost. That could form the basis of a lawsuit right there.

Given the EPA recommendation that homeowners take action if radon gas levels exceed four picocuries per liter, it only adds to the potential for concern—especially given that some countertops have been found to contain as much as five to six picocuries, which carries a greater cancer risk than smoking a half pack of cigarettes per day.

As it is, home health inspectors maintain that pregnant women and small children are most at risk, as well as anyone who spends a good deal of time in the kitchen.

Which is pretty near everybody. Little wonder legal experts expect lawsuits.

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