Gerhart runs a countertop and cabinet company, which he says fabricates everything available in countertops. "What concerns us about some of the granites is that some can be pretty radioactive and our position is that those shouldn't be sold," Gerhart says. "Almost all have some radiation, but we think there are some that can be sold relatively safely, as long as you tell people what they're buying."
Gerhart says that people who are interested in buying granite countertops should first have the slabs tested by an independent party. "I sell granite but I recommend someone from outside check the granite," Gerhart says. "I don't feel customers should just trust me to test this properly. The more I know about it, the harder it is to test. The trick is in knowing the limitations of the Geiger counter.
"We've been testing granite from day one. We've only sold stones that were proven to be safe. Not 100% safe, but not a huge concern. [Consumers should] get the granite tested—if it's hot [hazardous] replace it."
According to Gerhart, hair loss and fingernail abnormalities are not associated with radon. "In our research, we haven't found that radon can cause hair loss," Gerhart says. "Radon is known for third brachial tube cancer. Studies have found links between Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and radon. When radon decays it turns into radioactive particles (such as lead 214 and polonium 218) that put radiation in your lungs."
However, Gerhart says the problems with granite countertops may extend beyond radon and into heavy metals, such as selenium. Although he notes that not a lot of research has been done on the topic, he says that some granites have been found to contain selenium, which is beneficial in small doses but toxic at higher levels.
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More research needs to be done on granite, radon and heavy metals. Until that time, it seems that the controversy over using granite countertops in homes will not die down. The best thing that people can do is get the granite tested before putting it in a home or replacing that granite countertop if it is found to have high levels of radon.
"Our goal is to learn something from this because we want bad granite off the market," Gerhart says. "We don't know what's dangerous and what's not—we can keep [radon] levels as low as possible but we're just guessing. We're trying to determine safe levels."