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Do Granite Countertops Emit Radon?

We separate the myth from the fact, and tell you what to do if you're concerned

Illustration by Chris Gash

The Myth

Homeowners gulped after reading newspaper stories that conjured up frightening images of a Three-Mile Kitchen Island. The reports were about granite countertops that contain radium, which can emit radon, a radioactive gas that can cause lung cancer.

The Reality: Some granite countertops have been found to give off trace amounts of radon, and reporters cited a few kitchens with radon levels as high as 25 times the EPA's safety limit of 4 picocuries per liter of air. Granite is mined from the earth, where radium and naturally occurring radioactive materials are not uncommon; certain regions have higher levels of radioactivity than others, and scientists have worked for years to determine where they are. But Bill Brodhead, president of WPB Enterprises, a Pennsylvania radon mitigation company, says, "Very few granite countertops pose a real threat." And the EPA, after reviewing test data submitted by manufacturers, issued a statement saying there isn't enough evidence to suggest granite countertops are a source of radon. Brodhead adds that the real radon threats are usually found in basements dug into the ground—or, if you don't have one, the ground right below your house.

Bottom Line: Radon-related lung cancer claims the lives of some 20,000 people each year, so it's not to be taken lightly. If you're worried, pick up a home testing kit for about $25. If you see levels at or above the EPA's limit, call in a specialist.

Learn More: The Marble Institute of America, which sets standards for natural stone, is developing radon testing methods for granite countertops. For more information, visit Marble Institute of America