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Workers who make your granite countertops may be exposed to dangerous levels of radiation

The last time I wrote about radiation from granite kitchen countertops, the comments and e-mails flowed in for weeks.

Some people thought the finding was absurd, insisting there was really no risk to health. Others said they were going to rip out their countertops, calling it (I guess depending on their age) either a Communist or a terrorist plot.

So why am I writing about this contentious topic again?  So I can share information on a possibly  significant but rarely reported danger from these countertops. More accurately, to those who cut the granite or do the fabrication.

The Department of Labor estimates that there are more than 50,000 stone-cutting businesses in the U.S., with anywhere from four to 80 workers each. Recent studies say these workers can be exposed to several hundred times more radiation a year than allowed by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

But first, let's talk about granite which, like most other naturally formed rock material, is often slightly radioactive.

I learned this by accident several years ago when I was in grad school studying radiation and its accompanying health hazards.

Over a holiday break I brought my alert kit home and stuck it in my basement. I opened the case to plug in the chargers on the equipment and a steady clicking filled the quiet, stone-walled cellar. The survey meters, popularly known as Geiger counters, were having a noisy field day.

Living in New Hampshire, the basement walls of our 100-year-old house were composed of large granite rocks and, like counter tops, they contained naturally occurring radiation.

Don't take my word for it.

"Natural radioactive elements like uranium, radium, and thorium can be present in a wide number of minerals that appear as crystals in granite from around the world," EPA says.

The agency has not conducted studies on radioactivity in granite countertops. Nevertheless, EPA's health physicists report that "based on the limited information available, EPA believes that most types of granite used in countertops . . . are probably not major contributors of radiation and radon in the home."

EPA will continue to monitor and analyze the issue, it says.  Here is a link to its website for more information.

Let's get back to the real reason for this posting.

Issac Wolf is a national reporter for Scripps Howard News Service and, this year alone, has done several important stories on the almost ignored issue of radiation safety.

He has just written a piece on a study called "Implications of Granite Counter Top Construction and Uses."  In his story, Wolf reports that full-time granite workers could be exposed to radiation up to levels 3,000 times above the NRC's radiation exposure limit for members of the general public.

The study was conducted by Linda Kincaid, an industrial hygienist in Saratoga, Calif., Al Gerhart, an Oklahoma City stonecutter, and Dave Bernhardt, a Salt Lake City health physicist.

They presented their paper at the Health Physics Society's annual scientific gathering, where it was well received.

I'm sure you won't be stunned to learn that the stone  industry, and some of the scientists that work for them find endless faults with the study.  However, OSHA says it will follow EPA and do more research into the possible exposure hazard.

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