Reports of granite countertops emitting radon and hazardous radiation have swept the Internet since a New York Times article in July, but state health officials and local granite dealers say the low levels released by the stone pose no serious threat.

Reports of granite countertops emitting radon and hazardous radiation have swept the Internet since a New York Times article in July, but state health officials and local granite dealers say the low levels released by the stone pose no serious threat.


"Being out in the sun with no sunblock, you get more radiation," said Tom Stokes, general manager of Rich Murray Granite and Marble Works in Bartonville.


"We're busier now than we've ever been," he said.


Stokes is one of several local granite suppliers who have been busy answering calls from concerned customers, asking if the trendy and fairly pricey stone used to make countertops, showers stalls and floors, is dangerous.


"I get about one call a week at least," said Laurie Dean, vice president of Design Plus Granite in Peoria.


But some experts say the stone isn't likely to cause any serious problems.


"There is almost always naturally occurring radioactivity in all stones," said Patrick Daniels, health physicist with the Illinois Emergency Management Agency.


Daniels, involved with the agency's radon program, said radon comes from the natural decay of uranium that exists in all soils. Because granite is mined from underground, it contains elements of the decaying uranium, which breaks down as radon gas.


"Radon is the leading cause of lung cancer among non-smokers," he said, and added the state estimates 1,160 Illinois residents will get radon-related lung cancer annually.


Radon only exists as a gas and is the only radioactive gas, Daniels said. It's colorless, odorless and tasteless and can only be detected by testing for it.


But Daniels said nearly the only source of radon gas is from the soil surrounding a house, not the granite people use to beautify the inside of it.


"It's very, very rare that radon would come from another source. I would not be concerned about putting granite countertops in my house," Daniels said, who encouraged anyone with concerns to get their home tested as they normally would and do additional testing near the granite.


Seth Thomas with River Valley Granite in Washington knows of a customer who took testing to a whole new level last week.


"He actually brought in a Geiger counter to check the slabs," Thomas said.


The device, which measures levels of radioactivity, detected less in the granite than in the concrete floor it was sitting on, Thomas said.


But even with all the questions and concerns from customers, sales haven't slowed down. In fact, Stokes said sales of granite and marble have doubled in recent years and are in the millions of dollars at his business.


Peoria resident Kevin Kallister said he had granite installed in nine rooms of his home and said he wasn't aware of the radon issue and isn't really concerned now.


"There's plenty of advantages to granite," he said. "More pluses than minuses."


Kevin Sampier can be reached at (309) 346-5300 or ksampier@pjstar.com.