The answer is probably not. The risk is confined to those with granite worktops. I’m a sure many are like me, and have the budget model and can
now breath in a sigh of relief.
For the moment.
The reason that granite poses a potential risk is because of it’s radium content. Granite contains both uranium and thorium, in trace amounts.
This in itself is not a health risk. However, if the rock is metamorphic, the zircon crystals in the rock, which bear the uranium and thorium may
have undergone metamicization, setting in motion radiation decay. This process eventually leads to the emission of Radon Gas.
The emission from granite worktops is negligible according to studies...
Dan Steck of St. Johns University, has stated that approximately 5% of all granite will be of concern, with the caveat that only a tiny
percentage of the tens of thousands of granite slab types have been tested.
A study of granite countertops was done (initiated and paid for by the Marble Institute of America) in November 2008 by National Health and
Engineering Inc of USA, and found that all of the 39 full size granite slabs that were measured for the study showed radiation levels well below the
European Union safety standards (section 220.127.116.11 of the National Health and Engineering study) and radon emission levels well below the average
outdoor radon concentrations in the US.
On a cautionary note though, those studies were incredibly limited, and since they were funded by producers/suppliers, not entirely without the
implication of bias.
Recording emission levels is by no means straight forward, as we shall see later. For the time being though, worktops represent a very low risk to
our health. Radon is after all a natural emission in the Earth’s processes, therefore, our worktops should be the least of our worries. We are
surrounded by this gas and it could be filling up our homes.
A new nuclear power plant was preparing to start up near Pottstown, Pennsylvania, and its management began requiring workers to pass through a
radiation monitoring portal to check whether any radioactive contamination was being carried out as they left the plant. Curiously, one of the
workers, Stanley Watras, set off the alarm on entering the plant. The problem was traced to radon in his home. In fact, to this day his house
still holds the world record, 2,700 pCi/l!
The Watras home is built on land that overlays granite bedrock, the Reading Prong extends from Pennsylvannia, through northern New Jersey, southern
New York and ends in Connecticut. The Prong is comprised of crystallised metamorphic rock. The Watras home had become filled with the gas seeping
in through cracks and gaps in the foundations from natural emissions from below ground.
Radon Gas is a heavy, inert gas, other radioactive components involved in Radioactivity Decay are solids which do not move far from source and are
dispersed by land movements and soil erosion. Radon Gas can move through soil to the surface where it is quickly dispersed into the air to a harmless
dilution. The problem arises though when houses are built on land close enough to the bedrock to allow those gases to pass into the house through the
foundations. More gas is drawn in the more sealed that the house is above ground, and especially when there is a difference in air pressure and
temperature. A warm house in a colder environment, with most windows closed and/or little air circulation will help draw
the gas into the
Which brings us to this uncomfortable piece of information.
Granite could be considered a potential natural radiological hazard as, for instance, villages located over granite may be susceptible to higher
doses of radiation than other communities.Cellars and basements sunk into soils over granite can become a trap for radon gas, which is formed by
the decay of uranium. Radon gas poses significant health concerns, and is the number two cause of lung cancer in the US behind smoking.
About 10,000 deaths from Lung Cancer every year are associated with Radon Gas in the US. The proportions are similar in the UK in relation to cases
of Lung Cancer. Even though Radon Gas is inert, it contains daughter particles that are solid that can be retained when inhaled. While the gas is
usually too diluted in the open air to cause any damage, in a contained environment, where the concentration of the gas is less dispersed, these solid
daughter particles can become lodged in the bronchial tubes, where, as they complete their role in the process of Radioactivity Decay, they will emit
alpha particles which penetrate the cells and are 100 times more likely to induce cancer than any other form of radiation exposure.
. And in perhaps one out of a thousand American homes, radon levels are so high they pose a greater lung cancer risk than smoking a pack of
cigarettes per day.
It is recommended that levels of Radon Gas in the home should not exceed 20pCi/l. This level is drawn from the maximum exposure permitted under
current safety regulations that a miner is permitted to work under
. Which is an interesting choice of figure, and perhaps explained by the
expectation that many of those at risk are engaged in mining, or living in close proximity to mining operations. This would further suggest that
little study into the risks of living, eating and sleeping in a high Radon household, and therefore, we are relying on the mining industry for best
practice. I am sure that I am not the only one who can see some pitfalls, no pun intended, with that policy.
As I mentioned earlier there is a lack of any comprehensive study of the rate of emissions into our living spaces due to the difficulties in testing
for those emissions. The rate of emission fluctuates, by the hour, the day, the season. Often dramatically. Therefore, to obtain a comprehensive
reading, testing should ideally be carried out for a full 12 month period. On a domestic level this raises difficulties, and has so far limited the
number of properties that have been adequately tested. Most of the testing that has been carried out, both in the UK and the US, has involved short
term studies, sometimes only recording the emissions in an hour.
The conditions that most facilitate an increase in the rate by which Radon Gas is drawn into the home, little ventilation combined with the house
being significantly warmer than the immediate environment around it, creating a differential in air pressure, occur in Winter, and most particularly,
at night. If testing does not including samples taken at night, they can in no way, definitively, identify whether levels of the gas are a risk to
the inhabitants of the household. Radon Gas needs air circulation to disperse. In a warm still house on a cold night, we are more likely to breath
recycled air, and therefore, more likely to inhale those alpha emitting particles.
Radon Gas though can only pass through a few feet of soil so is only of concern to those living directly on, metamorphic bedrock. Which also includes
More homes in the South West are at risk from radioactive radon gas than previously thought.
New research shows the problem could affect heavily populated areas such as Plymouth, Torbay and Newton Abbot.
Radon - which is linked to an increased risk of lung cancer - is normally found in granite, but scientists have discovered a significant risk in areas
with limestone rock.
But geologists now say water can move through rock layers from granite and carry uranium and radium, which give rise to radon.
Water can pool in limestone and that pooling can increase the risk of radon gas.
Plymouth, Torbay and Newton Abbot all have large areas of limestone.
Richard Scrivener, of the British Geological Survey, said: "If your property is situated over a fracture in limestone, then there's a possibility
you'll have high radon levels.
"It really isn't a very big problem, but it does happen on a very much hit-and-miss basis."
Small amounts of radon are present in all buildings.
According to a Parliamentary paper on the threat of Radon, 400,000 homes had been tested by 2005, of those 40,000
were found to have Radon
levels above the ‘action level’. Obviously those tests were on homes most at risk, but the report estimates that a total of 100,000 homes
countrywide represent a health risk to their occupants. With approximately 25 million homes in the UK, that figure is not too worrying and represents
a minor percentage. However, those homes affected, due to the underlying cause, the bedrock that they are built upon, are concentrated
geographically. In Plymouth 14% of homes are believed to be at risk, and in Truro 29%!
The remedies, according to all information on the subject, is simple, and the threat can be alleviated by a combination of sealing the house to
prevent the gas entering in the first place, and air pumps to remove it when it does. But first one needs to ascertain whether the Radon is present.
A testing kit can be obtained from the Health Protection Agency (HPA) for £50. This is kept in situ though for only three months, sent back to HPA
who write back with the result. All very well for those who can afford £50 and have access to the information about the threat posed by Radon Gas.
We will get back to that soon.
As of 2005, only 10% of those effected by dangerous levels of Radon in their homes had taken remedial measures towards prevention, despite, as the
Building Research Establishment (BRE) puts it...
A range of practical and cost effective solutions have been developed by BRE to help reduce radon levels in existing buildings and to prevent
radon entry into new buildings.
The reasons why there has been so little response to the Radon risk is covered in the Parliamentary paper.
Simple inertia about taking action even where people are aware of the risks and benefits
Reluctance to take action where radon concentrations only marginally exceed the Action Level
Some acceptance of ‘natural’ radiation, while at the same time being concerned about ‘artificial’ radiation (eg, from nuclear power and waste
Inadequate access to sound (and trusted advice) about options for remedial action and probable costs
So, in short, it is an informational and educational problem. Which one would presume, would make it reasonably easy, and cost effective to remedy,
especially given that it is a problem that is geographically defined. Initial testing, of the 400,000 homes previously mentioned, took place in
1987 and yet between then and 2005 of the 40,000 homes that tested above the Action Level, only 4,000 had taken action. Why were those people not
better advised? And, given that many of those households will have since changed hands, what measures have been taken to inform the new owners and
occupiers of the risks? To answer the latter question, very likely, not, and if they were it is most likely that it was a new build, not an
Very little action it seems is being taken, proactively, to reduce the risks posed by Radon Gas in homes. The initial testing cost between £10 and
12 million of public funds. Money that has essentially been used to fund a pointless exercise. The remedies are estimated to cost not much more than
£1000 per household depending on the type of property affected. In 2005 the government was setting aside an annual budget of £1 million to tackle
the Radon Gas problem in householders, which given the relative low costs one would assume that this would have been adequate in targeting those most
effective. However, most of that money has gone on funding discussions, advisory boards and supposedly campaigns. Only a fractional amount has gone
towards taking actual action, and that ‘action’ usually constitutes providing little more than advice.
But, if you were told that you had a dangerous level of a cancer causing gas in your house wouldn’t you take action? Can the government really be
held accountable for people’s reticence about their own health? Perhaps not, and the £1 million is purely designated for the provision of advice
and guideline, not for remediation, that is the responsibility of the local authority, if it chooses to take it.
And, since many of the areas worst affected are also some of the worse off economically. Those local authorties may want to help, but they cannot
afford to without diverting resources from other much needed areas. Besides, the majority of councils are peopled by the employed, those that can
afford to take remediary action. We also must not forget, that some of the highest risk areas are not in England, they are in Scotland and Wales, and
therefore not the responsibility of the central government in any shape or form.
The majority of those affected are poor families, living in poor areas, these are the most at risk from Radon Gas emissions, and no amount of
education or information as to the risks involved will help them to find the money to overcome that situation. Even if they could afford the testing
kit, it is unlikely that they could afford the remedial work, so why even bother testing?
The secondary concern is how many of those houses tested or that are affected but untested, have now passed into the rental market? Though Radon Gas
emissions may be raised in a purchasing survey, no such regulations exist to inform renters. Nor are there any regulations to enforce landlords
taking remedial action to protect the health of their tenants. Furthermore, if the following post by DISRAELI on a previous thread on ATS referring
to the dangers of Radon Gas, Estate Agents are actually advising prospective buyers against testing, because that way should the emissions be found
to be higher than the Action level, they would be obligated to report it to subsequent buyers.
Radon gas is a natural product of the ground in many areas of Britain;
My own locality is one of them, as I was advised when I bought this house.
I believe the risk level is low (my solicitor advised me not to bother having a test done, because I would then be obliged to tell a future purchaser
about the results)
Surely if the risk is low, telling prospective buyers, about that ‘low risk’ would not impede the sale. So why are buyers being advised not to