Italians join in fight against granite radon scare

The American stone industry’s fight back against a radon scare associated with granite worktops has received a $20,000 boost from the Italian trade association Internazionale Marmi e Macchine (IMM).
Individual granite companies in Italy are also supporting the campaign by the Marble Institute of America (MIA) (see last month’s issue of NSS when it was reported that a story carried in the respected New York Times had added to the credibility of the radon scare).
But MIA, who blame the makers of engineered quartz for having started the scare because they were “frustrated at not being able to match granite’s popularity”, are fighting back. They have gained the support of many state health authorities in the USA and authoritative scientific bodies in saying that granite is safe to use in the home.
The MIA have responded vigorously to TV and newspaper reports as the story has spread and put videos on Youtube (go to and search for “granite radon”).
They have produced a new consumer brochure and videos for their natural stone retailer and fabricator members to distribute to their customers.
And they have now published the results of a new comprehensive review of scientific data on radon emissions from granite worktops.
The review is by Dr John McCarthy, President of Environmental Health & Engineering, consultants specialising in indoor environmental exposure assessments. It reviews more than 500 measurements of radon emissions from granite published in peer-reviewed scientific journals. It shows that, on average, radon emissions from granite slab are:
0 300 times lower than levels of radon in outdoor air
0 1,000 times below the average concentration of radon found in the air inside US homes
0 3,000 times less than the action level for indoor air recommended by the US EPA.
Dr McCarthy says: “We reviewed data reported by every peer-reviewed, published study we could find and the conclusion is clear: No scientific evidence exists to suggest that granite countertops are a source of meaningful exposure to radon.”
He said that even granites emitting the highest levels of radon in the most tightly constructed homes would still lead to radon levels 70 times lower than EPA action levels.
Giorgio Bianchini, the Chairman of the Italian IMM, said of their $20,000 donation in support of the MIA: “The Italian companies operating in this industry are very worried about what has been happening over the last few weeks in the United States where there is currently a campaign underway declaring that granite is actually bad for your health.
“This message jeopardises the entire sector.”
He said that until the start of the radon scare in July it was “accepted by everyone in all continents” that granite is safe.
The questioning of that could have “serious consequences for the entire stone system”, he said.
Radon is a radioactive noble gas (ie it does not react chemically with other substances and therefore remains in the atmosphere for long periods). It has no colour, smell or taste and is not, therefore, easily detected. At sufficient concentrations it is associated with lung cancer.
It is present in all rock, not just granite, and seeps out of the ground continually. It is found in almost all homes, although usually at perfectly safe levels, having seeped up from the ground below. Any extra from worktops are generally regarded as negligable.
It is heavier than air so concenrates at lower levels, especially cellars.