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Radon Gas: Could your Kitchen Worktop be Hazardous to your Health?

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posted on Nov, 27 2012 @ 07:06 AM
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[16] 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 of the National Health and Engineering study) and radon emission levels well below the average outdoor radon concentrations in the US.[17]

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.

Consider this....

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 home.

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.[11]Cellars and basements sunk into soils over granite can become a trap for radon gas, which is formed by the decay of uranium.[12] Radon gas poses significant health concerns, and is the number two cause of lung cancer in the US behind smoking.[13]

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 Limestone.

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 disposal)

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 established residence.

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 test?

posted on Nov, 27 2012 @ 02:44 PM
My X lived in an area where Radon gas is a problem here in the US. The cost of fixing a Radon problem can be in excess of $10,000. He was surprised with the news when he went to sell his house. A law requiring testing when you sell your house, was passed after he bought his, and before he sold.

Yet another thing lined up on the horizon waiting to kill us. Sort of takes the comfort out of the word home.

I can see the demand for granite counter tops plunging.

As you mention in your thread, the ones who are screwed are the poor, living on limestone. They cannot afford the testing even, and fixing is cost prohibitive. It is kind of scary that limestone is no protection.

These days with Governments scrambling to keep the lights on, I don't see them riding to the rescue.

posted on Nov, 27 2012 @ 02:58 PM
I had my home tested for Radon after the house across the street was tested with a radon level that was 'high.' My home came in as acceptable, the difference we believe is because the foundation in the other home was cracked due to some renovations. The cracked basement allowed radon to get into their house. If you check the internet, there are areas in the USA that homes are prone for radon. If memory serves, the Rocky Mountain region in particular

posted on Nov, 28 2012 @ 04:27 AM
reply to post by Iamschist

I think the difference in the cost of remedial work, between the US and the UK, must be related to house construction. Cellars and basements while popular in the Georgian and Victorian period, were mostly reserved for townhouses, and therefore unlikely to be found in areas close enough to bedrock to pose a problem. Since the second world war, most houses have been built on concrete floats limiting the routes by which the gas can enter. I therefore suspect that it is the homes constructed for working class people in the Victorian period that pose the most risk. These generally have a suspended floor over an airspace, with the soil beneath. leaving the gas with plenty of access to the living space through the gaps in the floorboards. These houses usually have the worst circulation too, ranged as they are in terraces. Prior to the advent of double glazing, draughts through windows, chimneys and the unlined roof would have alleviated much of the problem, but now, as tight, hermetically sealed little boxes, they presumably suck in the gas. In many ways, our drives to be more energy efficient will be negative influence, in this regard. For more reasons than just this, buildings need to breathe.

posted on Nov, 28 2012 @ 12:53 PM
Our Northern California home has granite counters (tiles of granite). So we're installing a range hood for kitchen ventilation. It's caveat emptor for over-the-stove ventilation systems, however, because some are designed so badly they can't be effective, and the most popular option (grease-catching apparatus at the base of an overhanging microwave oven) removes zero air from around the cooktop. With a microwave oven overhanging the stove, you have minimal ventilation anyway even if its air-removal option was installed. Kitchen ventilation is even more of a problem with gas stoves, which all have their own serious emissions problems. So our rarely used microwave will be banished to the utility room when the new range hood is installed.

Don't assume that your general contractor knows all this stuff ... we had to educate ours, because California does not require that general contractors learn this.

posted on Nov, 28 2012 @ 03:30 PM
reply to post by Uphill

I think that the emissions from worktops are only a factor if other sources of Radon Gas are present. In which case they just add to the total yield.

I am still somewhat concerned though that the safety standard in homes is based upon the maximum exposure allowed for miners. I assume, that in a mine, levels are constantly monitored, and once they reach the maximum, the miners are moved out of that area or issued with breathing apparatus. In a home, a person could be exposed to the gas 24/7, and if it is high during the day, it is likely to be even higher when the household is sleeping. Shouldn't the safety level in homes therefore be more reflective of the time scale of exposure?

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