Can Granite Countertops Cause Lung Cancer?

Risk of Radon Exposure from Granite Countertops

granite countertop with vegetables may risk radon exposure
Could your granite countertops raise your risk of lung cancer?.

Exposure to radon that enters homes is an important cause of lung cancer, and is the leading cause of lung cancer in nonsmokers. Radon is a naturally occurring gas that arises from the normal decomposition of uranium in the soil. Since granite countertops are also a potential cause of radon exposure in the home, many people have wondered if this could be a problem, and how to find out if it is safe. Let's take a look at what we know at this time.

How Could Granite Countertops Cause Lung Cancer?

The concern about granite countertops leading to lung cancer came about because we know some of these natural surfaces can emit radon. The normal decay of uranium present in granite produces radon gas, but the amount of this gas can vary tremendously. To best understand this let's back up and talk about the importance of radon in lung cancer so you can understand your risk, if any.

Radon and Exposure and Lung Cancer Risk

Exposure to radon gas in our homes—possible anywhere in the world and in all 50 States—is thought to be the second leading cause of lung cancer overall, and the leading cause of lung cancer in non-smokers. Since lung cancer in never smokers is the 6th leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States, these are not small numbers. For a quick comparison, there are roughly 40,000 women who die from breast cancer in the U.S. each year. There are 27,000 people who die from radon-induced lung cancer. Yet, we certainly hear more about breast cancer.

Hearing the word radon may put a picture of miners in your head, but in fact, the greatest risk is to those who spend the most time in the home: women and children.

Radon gas results from the normal decay of uranium, which can be present in varying degrees in the rock beneath our homes. When released into the air outside, it is not a problem as it diffuses widely. When trapped in our homes, however, the levels can build up abnormally high, and eventually, lead to cancer.

Most radon exposure occurs due to radon that seeps into our homes through the foundation by way of cracks, sump pumps, and drains. The age of your home isn't important, and newer homes may actually grant a higher risk due to being more tightly sealed.

Back to Countertops and Radon Exposure

Studies have shown that granite countertops can emit radon and radiation, but this is usually at very low levels that are well below the level occurring in most homes, and well below the limit recommended by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

It's important as well, before looking specifically at granite, to realize that many "natural" products will, by their very nature, carry radon to some degree. Products ranging from the clay in bricks, to marble, to natural gas, may contain radon, and since granite is less porous than some of these other products, should be of even less concern.

That said, in rare cases, the radon emitted from granite countertops has been significant. What can you do to make sure you are safe?

First Step: Test Your Home

If you haven't tested your home for radon, the first step would be to forget about your countertops and do radon testing for your home. Your chance of being exposed to radon in your home is much greater than your chance of exposure from your countertops. In fact, raising concern about granite countertops without testing your home could be considered analogous to being worried about secondhand smoke, while continuing to smoke yourself. Kits are available at most hardware stores for around $10. If your level is abnormal (levels are mentioned in the article link above on radon testing,) check out this information on doing radon mitigation.

Second Step: Consider the Possibility of Radon in Your Countertops

If you wish to get an idea on your own if your granite countertops are of concern, you might consider doing one radon test in the lowest level of your home, and another in the room where you have a granite countertop. (And perhaps a 3rd test in a room at a distance but on the same floor as your granite countertop.) If you try this, it is recommended that you place both kits at least 20 inches off the floor, and at least 20 inches away from the granite countertop. If the levels are abnormal, retest both areas to get a second reading.

Even if your granite countertops are emitting a significant amount of radon, this does not necessarily mean they need to be removed. Ventilation techniques to improve indoor air might lower the radon level to acceptable levels. 

If you are still concerned that your granite countertops may be raising the radon level in your home after mitigation, there are a few options. The EPA suggests that you may hire a certified radon professional to test for other sources of radon in your home such as granite countertops. The American Association of Radon Scientists and Technologists has a list of qualified professionals. It's important to note that, according to the EPA, some of the measurements currently being used (Geiger counter measurements) are not very accurate.

Currently, no regulations require manufacturers to test for the presence of radon in building materials. But this may change in the future as we learn more.

Bottom Line on Granite Countertops and Radon Induced Cancer Risk

While there is a potential risk of radon exposure due to granite countertops, this risk pales in comparison to the risk posed by elevated radon levels in the home related to radon in the soil beneath homes or even in ground water. For the most part, those who are anxious to lessen their exposure to carcinogens might get much more reduction for their efforts by looking at some of the other ways in which you can reduce your risk of lung cancer, perhaps even adding some of these superfoods to lower lung cancer risk to your daily meals.

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