A large part of the green building focus is on healthy indoor air quality – eliminating toxins, emissions and pollutants that can cause indoor air to be more polluted than outdoors. One common and potentially dangerous health risk inside buildings has recently been found in high levels in granite finishes. This highly popular countertop choice has become suspect as an emitter of radiation and an entry point for high levels of radon gas inside the home.

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You can’t see it, smell it or taste it, but radon occurs naturally as uranium in soil, rock and water breaks down. It is a naturally occurring radioactive gas that is found throughout the United States and can seep into homes through air and water posing a health risk – radon causes lung cancer. In fact, radon is the number one cause of lung cancer in non-smokers and causes more deaths annually than drunk-driving accidents.

Recent radon testing (which often accompanies home inspections for property transfer) has revealed that in addition to potential radon exposure through foundations or water, uranium in granite finishes is releasing radon as it breaks down after installation in the home. While the presence of radiation from granite has been known, and been found to emit radon at low levels in the past, recent radon test findings are revealing higher levels. “With increasing regularity in recent months, the Environmental Protection Agency has been receiving calls from radon inspectors as well as from concerned homeowners about granite countertops with radiation measurements several times above background levels,” according to The New York Times.

While not all granite poses a problem, the recent test results are an important development that shouldn’t be ignored by health conscious consumers. If you’ve got granite in your home, you can reduce your risk of lung cancer from radon exposure by testing your home’s radon level. It’s fairly easy and inexpensive to test for radon, you can even do it yourself with the proper kit. No level of radon is safe, but at a level higher than 4 picocuries per liter of air, the E.P.A. recommends taking action which would involve mitigation or removal of the source.

Image via Natural Resources Canada