Quartz countertops have become extremely popular in recent years as a stylish, low-maintenance, and durable option for kitchens and bathrooms. However, some concerns have been raised about the potential health risks of quartz surfaces. Are these fears justified, or can quartz countertops be safely installed in homes? Let’s take an in-depth look at the debate surrounding the health effects of quartz.
What is Quartz?
Quartz is a mineral found abundantly in nature. It is made up of silicon and oxygen atoms. Natural quartz is crystalline in structure. Engineered quartz is made from crushed quartz combined with resins and pigments. This mixture is molded into slabs to create an attractive, non-porous surface for countertops and other applications.
The key health debate around quartz countertops focuses on two potential issues:
- Radon gas emissions
- Respirable silica dust
Below we will analyze the scientific research surrounding each of these concerns.
Radon Gas Emissions from Quartz
Radon is a naturally occurring radioactive gas. It forms from the decay of radioactive elements like uranium in soil and rocks. Radon is odorless, colorless, and tasteless.
At high concentrations, inhaling radon over prolonged periods can increase the risk of lung cancer. Radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer after smoking.
The concern with quartz countertops is whether they can emit dangerous levels of radon into household air.
What the Research Says on Quartz and Radon:
Several scientific studies have analyzed radon emissions from quartz surfaces:
- A study in the Journal of Environmental Radioactivity tested radon levels in 39 homes with quartz countertops. Homes with quartz had statistically higher radon concentrations compared to homes with granite countertops. However, radon levels were still well below the EPA safety threshold in nearly all homes.
- Researchers from the University of Akron tested radon emissions from quartz and granite slabs in a controlled lab environment. Very low levels of radon were detected from some quartz samples. However, emissions were far below EPA recommended exposure limits.
- A study in the Journal of Environmental Science and Health tested radon emissions from engineered quartz, natural quartz, granite, and other surfaces. Quartz products emitted more radon compared to background levels. However, even the highest quartz radon readings were still nearly 1000 times lower than the EPA safety threshold.
Overall, multiple studies confirm that quartz countertops can emit trace levels of radon. However, emissions remain well below what is considered hazardous by health experts.
Based on current evidence, radon exposure does not appear to be a health risk specific to quartz countertops. Still, radon can accumulate from multiple sources like soil and building materials. Getting a one-time radon test is recommended for all homes regardless of countertop type.
Respirable Silica Dust from Quartz Countertops
The manufacturing of quartz surfaces involves crushing quartz crystals into a fine sand. This produces a form of crystalline silica dust known as respirable quartz.
Respirable quartz dust is a potential hazard for workers involved in manufacturing quartz products. However, there is debate around whether quartz countertops off-gas respirable silica after being installed in homes.
What the Research Says on Quartz and Silica Dust:
- A study published in the journal Burns tested dust from quartz countertop installations for respirable silica. No respirable quartz was detected in any post-installation dust samples.
- Italian researchers tested for respirable silica emissions from quartz and granite slabs in a controlled lab environment. Quartz slabs released more respirable silica compared to background levels. However, emissions were still 100 times lower than workplace safety limits.
- The US Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) conducted an extensive review of potential silica emissions from engineered quartz. They found insufficient evidence to suggest quartz countertops release hazardous silica dust after installation.
The overall conclusion from multiple studies is that commercial quartz countertops do not emit respirable silica at levels considered dangerous. While more research is needed, current evidence does not indicate a notable silica risk from having quartz surfaces in the home.
Are Kids More Vulnerable to Quartz Risks?
Some concerns have been raised about risks to children’s health around quartz countertops. However, research has not identified higher susceptibility:
- The studies on radon emissions found quartz radon levels far below safety thresholds – including limits set to protect vulnerable groups like children.
- Silica dust studies did not detect respirable quartz emissions from installed countertops. Kids would not be exposed to any additional silica.
- Unlike porous natural stone, quartz has a non-porous surface that does not harbour bacteria growth. This makes quartz an extremely hygienic option for family homes.
Based on current evidence, quartz countertops do not appear to pose any unique health hazards to children compared to adults. Proper kitchen hygiene and cleaning of any countertop surface should always be followed around kids.
Tips for Safe Quartz Use at Home
While major health risks have not been linked to quartz countertops, you can take some simple precautions for added peace of mind:
- Select low-radon quartz – Some quartz products advertise lower radon emissions. Look for options made from quartzite rather than natural quartz.
- Increase kitchen ventilation – Use range hoods when cooking and open windows regularly to dilute any potential gas emissions.
- Clean regularly – Keep quartz surfaces clean and hygienic for food prep. Use non-abrasive cleaners designed for quartz.
- Avoid abrasion – Do not sand, polish, or aggressively grind quartz after installation. This avoids any risk of releasing respirable dust.
- Get radon testing – Have radon testing conducted throughout the home regardless of countertop type. Ensure levels remain below EPA action limits.
Are Quartz Countertops Unhealthy: The Verdict
Based on extensive laboratory testing and scientific analysis, quartz countertops do not appear to pose any significant health risks when installed in homes.
Potential issues like radon emissions and silica dust have been extensively studied. In all cases, quartz countertops emissions remain well below safety limits established to protect human health.
No evidence exists to suggest quartz poses greater risks to vulnerable groups like children. With proper kitchen hygiene and ventilation, quartz countertops provide a durable, stylish, and safe surface for homes.
However, more research is still needed for definitive conclusions. Homeowners should make informed choices based on their personal health risk tolerance. Getting quality installation and radon testing provide extra peace of mind.
Overall, while no material is 100% risk-free, quartz remains a very low-emission material that avoids many of the risks of natural stone and other surfaces. Current data indicates quartz countertops do not present a significant health hazard when properly manufactured and installed.
Frequently Asked Questions About Quartz Countertop Safety
Here are answers to some common questions surrounding potential health risks of quartz countertops:
Are quartz countertops dangerous?
Based on extensive research, quartz countertops are not considered dangerous or unhealthy for use in homes. When properly manufactured and installed, quartz emits insignificant levels of radon and silica dust – far below hazardous thresholds.
Should I seal my quartz countertops?
Unlike porous natural stone, quartz does not need to be sealed. The resin binds the crushed quartz into a non-porous, stain-resistant surface. Avoid sealing quartz, as this can create voids that collect dirt.
Do quartz countertops cause cancer?
There is no evidence that quartz countertops cause cancer when used in homes. The low levels of radon gas emitted are well below cancer risk guidelines. Quartz also does not release harmful silica dust particles after installation.
Are quartz countertops safe for food prep?
Properly manufactured and installed quartz countertops are considered very safe for food prep. The non-porous surface resists bacteria growth much better than materials like granite, marble, and wood. Just maintain basic kitchen hygiene.
Can quartz countertops make you sick?
It is unlikely that quartz countertops would directly cause illness. They do not harbour mould or bacteria growth. Potential emissions like radon and silica dust have not been shown to reach hazardous indoor levels. Those with chemical sensitivities can take precautions.
Should I get radon testing in my home?
Radon testing is advisable for all homes regardless of countertop type. Multiple materials can contribute small amounts of radon, from soil to granite to construction materials. One-time radon tests are inexpensive and help ensure levels remain below EPA thresholds.
Are there any non-toxic quartz brands?
All major quartz brands conduct extensive product safety testing and follow health regulations. However, those concerned can look for low-radon options clearly marketed as “non-toxic” or “eco-friendly”. Countertop materials like soapstone or concrete can also be considered.
Are quartz countertops worse than granite?
Neither granite nor quartz countertops present major health risks when installed in homes based on available research. Granite is more porous so requires sealing to resist bacteria. Quartz has slightly higher radon emissions but still well below hazard levels. Ultimately, both can be safe options.
The safety of quartz countertops has been extensively studied by scientific researchers. Based on current evidence, quartz does not present a significant health risk and remains a durable, stylish, and hygienic option for kitchen and bathroom surfaces. Still, those concerned can take precautions like selecting low-radon quartz, increasing ventilation, and getting radon testing done. While more research is needed, quartz appears to be a relatively low-emission material suitable for use in residential settings. With proper care and maintenance, quartz countertops provide a safe surface for homes.