Over the last couple of months there have been many news articles and blog posts about radon and radioactivity in granite countertops.
It seems that there MIGHT BE a small number of installed countertops emanating some pretty bad stuff into people's kitchens.
Plays right into the fears of the fearful and the web is echoing with their concerns.
My post today though has to do with those people who are planning new kitchens or remodels of their existing kitchens who STILL want granite countertops and are contemplating the purchase of a Geiger counter at around $150 to take along on their shopping expeditions.
I suggest that you save your money and instead demand that the stone yard selling the granite slabs PROVE to you with on the spot testing that the granite they are selling is safe for you and your family.
Believe me, if enough of you make such a request/demand, the purveyors of granite will get the message and take responsibility for the safety of their products, AND their employees.
They will then go back to their suppliers and demand the same proof of safety before they order slabs from the quarries.
Before you know it there will be testing stickers on every slab of granite displayed in the USA and the issue will be a dead one.
That leaves the (perhaps) millions of Americans with existing granite countertops to enrich the makers of Geiger counters.
I suggest you all get together on MySpace and purchase one per neighborhood to cut down on the cost (NOTE: This is a tongue in cheek statement - I really don't think that people should be buying Geiger counters - see the AARST Granite Position Statement or the EPA paper - A Citizen's Guide to Radon: The Guide to Protecting Yourself and Your Family from Radon).
A press release from MIA:
MIA Begins Campaign to Counter Reports about Granite's Health Risks
Cleveland, OH - An extensive legal, scientific and media campaign by the Marble Institute of America (MIA) is underway to protect the granite industry from what the association charged are unwarranted attacks "based on junk science and inconsistent testing results" that suggest granite countertops may pose a significant health risk to consumers. The latest firestorm over the potential health risks posed by granite heightened dramatically with the July 24 publication of an article entitled "What's Lurking in Your Countertop" in The New York Times, which reported that a radon measurement technician found levels of radon in the kitchen of an upstate New York home were 10 times higher than in other areas of the residence. Further tests, the article stated, attributed the elevated levels to the release of radon gas, a known carcinogen, from the kitchen's granite countertops.
The MIA's massive campaign to counter the article's claims and subsequent media reports on the subject included the following:
The MIA cited several independent studies which, it said, "consistently reveal no reason to believe that radon emissions from granite countertops pose a health risk in the home."
It attacked the methodology behind the findings reported in the NYT article, claiming the measurement procedure used by the technician was flawed.
The MIA last month called on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to "help calm the situation and reassure the public" by "reasserting the safety of granite countertops." According to the MIA, the EPA responded with a statement on its own website reaffirming "that granite countertops pose no significant health risk" and discounting "alarmist reports" about the safety of granite countertops.
The MIA noted several scientists and leading radon specialists have agreed to help create universally accepted scientific standards for testing granite tops for radon emissions.
The MIA has also established a "Truth About Granite Fund" aimed at financing its efforts "to disseminate honest, accurate, science-based information," and encouraged members to contact local media in an effort to provide more "balanced" coverage of the issue.
MIA Reports State Health & Environmental Officials' Growing Consensus: Granite Is Safe
Cleveland, OH- To clear up consumer confusion about the safety of granite countertops, a number of state environmental and health agencies have issued new statements that all conclude granite countertops typically found in homes don't pose a health risk to consumers, according to the Marble Institute of America (MIA). Those agencies include:
Florida Department of Health (FDOH), which recently posted this on its website: "...While the FDOH has never performed a study specifically designed to evaluate any health risks of granite countertops, staff from the FDOH's Bureau of Radiation Control and from the FDOH's Radon Program have had the opportunity over the years to survey various granite samples for gamma emissions, including a few granite countertops, and have yet to find granite thought to be a significant gamma radiation hazard..."
Texas Department of State Health Services (TDSHS), which stated on its site, "The amount of radioactivity in most granite is quite small. While it's possible to get a measurable level of direct radiation from some granite, in general it emits less radiation than we're regularly exposed to from background radiation. These levels are so low that they're not harmful to human health."
New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP), which cited the three most common radon sources: "Terrestrial radiation from soil and soil gases; cosmic radiation from the sun and outer space; and internal radiation due to naturally occurring radiation in the body."
North Carolina Geological Survey (NCGS), whose assistant state geologist, Kenneth Taylor, said he seriously doubts radon from most natural stone counters is enough to hurt anyone. "Almost all igneous rocks have some small amount of radiation."
Washington State Department of Health (WSDOH), which said, "If the stone is properly sealed, there's little likelihood that the granite will cause a radon problem. Even if the countertop is releasing some radiation, that does not mean it will be a radon problem or public health concern. Based on our experience with radon and radiation issues, we would not let this be the deciding factor on whether or not to get granite countertops."
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which recently updated its position on granite tops: "Based on existing studies, most types of granite used in countertops and other aspects of home construction are not typically known to be major contributors of radiation and radon in the average home."
An exhaustive study commissioned by the Marble Institute of America concludes:
Environmental Health & Engineering, Inc. has completed a detailed evaluation of potential human health risks of naturally occurring radioactive materials in granite countertops. The extensive measurements and rigorous mathematical modeling conducted to date indicate that (i) external doses of ionizing radiation emitted from granite countertops are well below levels that would pose a health concern and (ii) contributions from granite countertops to radon levels in homes are lower than background levels of radon exposure typically found outdoors and indoors.
You can read the entire report here.
Well, it looks like the Marble Institute of America is taking my advice and instituting testing and labeling of stone slabs to reassure the public about their safety. Look for "Home Approved Stone" labels on slabs in yards within the next few months.
Stone Safety Testing Program Begun by MIA
A national stone safety testing program, aimed at "reassuring consumers about the safety, beauty and durability of granite countertops and putting an end to baseless claims that granite countertops can pose a health risk," has been unveiled by the Marble Institute of America.
The Cleveland, OH-based MIA last month announced the Home Approved Stone Program, a universal testing protocol "that allows consumers to be completely confident that the granite countertops they choose for their homes are every bit as safe as they are durable, practical and beautiful."
Developed by independent scientists and researchers following an ambitious study of granite countertops, the protocols have been submitted for peer review to scientific organizations involved in radon and radiation testing, according to the trade association. Products that pass the test will be labeled with a "Home Approved Stone" logo, showing they have been screened and approved for interior use, the MIA said, with granite slabs bearing the Home Approved Stone logo starting to appear in showrooms in the coming months.
Kitschy Kitchens is a blog where I critique the worst of the worst in kitchens. Poor design, an assault on the eyes, wrong colors, wrong materials; they all can be found there. Take an amusing detour to discover what you DON'T want in a kitchen.
Thursday, August 21, 2008
Over the last couple of months there have been many news articles and blog posts about radon and radioactivity in granite countertops.
Tuesday, August 19, 2008
There is a great new post by Sal Vaglica on This Old House Online called How to Use Contractor Referral Websites that is a perfect adjunct to my article on finding, interviewing and selecting contractors on my web site.
Sal's article details how to use the services such as Angie's List and Servicemagic to find a contractor when you don't have the usual resources like coworkers, friends and family to ask for referrals.
I tried a couple of the services myself (Servicemagic and its predecessor, ImproveNet), years ago, to market my services before I discovered the (wonderful) world-wide-web.
I found that paying for "leads", when the service was unwilling to include detailed budget questions in their questionnaire, was not very fruitful for me.
My clientele tends to be a small percentage of the overall population of consumers looking for kitchen design services. They are mostly middle class people with difficult kitchens that require a lot of remodeling and a designer with a "fresh eye". They also put more dollars into their projects than the average because of their complexity. Thank GOODNESS the web came along!
I think the referral sites work better for contractors though. It gives them a chance to connect with new potential clients who aren't friends of friends, or are new in town.
I also think Angie's List is well worth the cost because you get to read other consumers' thoughts on working with the individual or company AFTER they have had the experience...and the comments are unsolicited.
It is certainly de rigeur to ask a contractor, or anyone else you are contemplating hiring, for references; however you must understand that those references are going to be among their happiest clients.
I like to ask for a reference who had problems on the job as well. That way I'll learn how the individual performs under adverse conditions and problem-solves.
So, if you (and all your friends) are new to remodeling and looking for a contractor, try Angie's List. I bet you'll be glad you did.
I received this notice from the National Kitchen and Bath Association (NKBA) today.
Looks like a lot of building products will be healthier after that.
Manufacturers took the toxics out of cabinetry years ago because of the public's concerns, so the new law won't impact manufactured cabinets much at all...But locally made custom will definitely be impacted, and imports as well.
California Airborne Toxic Control Measures To Reduce Formaldehyde Emissions From Composite Wood Products Effective January 2009.
Beginning January 1, 2009 any composite wood product, or finished good containing composite wood products (a.k.a. finished goods such as furniture, cabinets, etc.), intended for the California market, must meet California's clean air emission standards limiting formaldehyde emissions. The regulation addresses three types of commonly used composite wood products- hardwood plywood, particleboard and medium-density fiberboard.
In 1992, formaldehyde was identified by the California Air Resources Board as a toxic air contaminant and state law requires that the public's exposure be reduced. Sufficient evidence existed for the California Air Resources Board, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and the International Agency for Research on Cancer to conclude that formaldehyde causes cancer in humans.
This regulation will be implemented in two phases requiring increasingly stringent emissions reductions. Phase 1 emission standards will be effective on January 1, 2009, and Phase 2 emission standards will be implemented between 2010 and 2012.
Responsibility for compliance is imposed through the entire commercial product-distribution chain. The manufacturers of composite wood products, third party certifiers, fabricators, distributors, importers and retailers of composite wood products and finished goods must collectively assure that the composite wood products and finished goods manufactured for sale in California are compliant in commerce. This will require that each recognizes and clearly understands the California's composite wood product regulation.
California's composite wood product regulation contains sell-through provisions which are explained in more detail on the California Air Resources Board website. More detailed information can be obtained by clicking this link .
A chart listing the sell-through dates for manufacturers, distributors, importers and fabricators may be viewed by clicking this link.
Thursday, August 14, 2008
In this nostalgic op-ed on The Kitchen Sink, Alan Shultz waxes poetic on the old wall-hung porcelain sinks of his grandmother's day.
He also has derogatory things to say about stainless steel sinks and dishwashers and Kitchen designers...ahem.
"Today's kitchen designers want us all to pretend dirty hands and dirty dishes aren't the norm and so all such unpleasantries must be hidden away."
Surprisingly, I too pine for the old porcelainized cast iron sinks of yesteryear. Unfortunately they went the way of the sinks of Alan's childhood.
Back in the 1970's, in response to concerns about health and safety, the lead was taken out of the formulations for coating cast iron sinks. The results have been disastrous for the genre. Today's cast iron sinks lose their shiny finish in a few short years with typical care and are dull and uncleanable after that.
The sinks I recommend for most of my clients are Corian and other high quality solid surface sinks, 18 gauge high-nickel stainless, or fireclay. These sinks will last the lifetime that the old cast iron sinks used to last, and be carefree their entire lives.
Most other sinks break down early and are not suitable for mounting underneath countertops.
Alan also pines for the days when families did their dishes together after a meal:
"As wonderful as the dishwasher is, I wonder what we have all sacrificed in sparing generations of children from the tradition of washing and drying the dishes. What lessons have gone untaught, what revelations have stayed untold because this post meal gathering has been done away?
More likely SOMEONE was stuck doing the dishes while the rest of the family lolled in the living room watching TV! Those family dishwashing sessions were a figment of Procter and Gamble's dreams and television commercials. I KNOW. I was that SOMEONE in a previous life!
It was labor saving appliances that freed women from the drudgery of endless housework and allowed them to consider a life outside the kitchen (I got out of the kitchen to get into kitchens).
Methinks Alan is really pining for the days when his wife was under his thumb. Methinks also that my clients would be really upset with me if I recommended a product out of nostalgia when it wouldn't perform for them.
Monday, August 04, 2008
In my web-roaming today I came across Kitchen & Bath Design News' new green blog Kitchen & Bath Sustainable. There I found this handy checklist to help consumers decide how much commitment they want to make to sustainability in their planned kitchen remodel.
1. Are you willing to increase your upfront investment to include green aspects to your project, recognizing that this investment will offer long-term benefits in terms of energy efficiency, improved air quality, etc.?
2. If so, what is the highest percentage you are willing to build into our agreed-upon budget for environmentally sound materials and practices?
Which of the following are most important to you for your project? (1 = most important; 10 = least important)
__Recycling components of the former kitchen or bath
__Using recycled/repurposed materials from the former kitchen or bath
__Using recycled/repurposed materials obtained elsewhere
__Using locally produced materials whenever/wherever possible
__Specifying low-VOC or no-VOC emitting products
__Using products that are certified green
__Using natural heat/light whenever/wherever possible
__Using products that promote water conservation
__Selecting energy efficient appliances
__Promoting overall energy-efficiency
I would add these:
__Choosing strategies which cost no more but increase energy efficiency and sustainability
__Choosing strategies which cost more but increase energy efficiency and sustainability
Such a checklist provides the designer and contractor executing the project with some concrete direction on how to specify and estimate costs and what areas are of prime concern to their clients.
Everybody is all for green remodeling and sustainability, especially when current and/or future costs can be reduced in the process.
ie. In our city it costs more to rent a dumpster than to call recyclers to come in and haul your recyclable building materials away. The only way to find this out is to do the research and get the costs yourself.
On the other hand, when costs increase as a result of sustainability choices, sometimes consumers balk at the idea of opening their wallets.
I am not, nor have I ever been, a big fan of Home Depot.
However, I have to hand it to them on this one.
They are recycling compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs), free of charge, at all stores.
Just take your unbroken CFLs to the Returns Desk and Home Depot will safely recycle them.