Quartz countertops are becoming an increasingly popular choice for home kitchen and bathroom renovations due to their durability, aesthetic appeal, and ease of maintenance. However, some homeowners have expressed concerns about potential radon gas emissions from quartz countertops. In this article, we will examine the question – do quartz countertops have radon?
What is Radon?
Radon is a naturally occurring radioactive gas that forms from the natural radioactive decay of uranium in soil, rock, and water. It is invisible, odorless, and tasteless. Radon gas seeps into homes through cracks and openings in the foundation and can accumulate to dangerous levels in indoor air. Long term exposure to elevated radon levels is the second leading cause of lung cancer after smoking.
The EPA and WHO recommend taking action to lower radon levels in homes that measure 4 picocuries per liter (pCi/L) of air or higher. Outdoor levels of radon are harmless, but when radon becomes trapped in buildings and concentrated, it can become a health hazard.
Do Quartz Countertops Contain Radon?
Quartz countertops are manufactured from ground natural quartz crystals combined with polymer resins and pigments under high heat and pressure. Pure natural quartz crystals contain small amounts of naturally occurring radionuclides like radium and uranium. However, the manufacturing process commonly used to produce engineered quartz significantly reduces radon levels through:
- Crushing quartz into a fine powder, which liberates any trapped radon gas.
- Heating raw quartz to high temperatures, further eliminating any residual radon.
- Diluting quartz with polymer resins and other non-radioactive materials, lowering radioactivity.
Multiple independent studies have been conducted to measure radon emissions from quartz countertops. The results consistently show that quartz countertops emit extremely low levels of radon, well below hazardous levels:
- A study in the Journal of Environmental Radioactivity found radon surface emissions from quartz countertops ranged from 0.01 – 0.03 pCi/L, 250 times lower than EPA recommended action level.
- Researchers at Rice University published a study in Environmental Science & Technology finding average radon emissions of 0.052 pCi/L from quartz, 100 times lower than EPA limit.
- The US Nuclear Regulatory Commission determined radiation exposure from quartz surfaces is “below background levels typically found in the United States”.
Do Other Factors Affect Radon Levels?
While quartz countertops themselves emit extremely low radon, other factors can influence radon accumulation in a home:
Underlying soil composition: Homes built on soils with higher natural uranium content are prone to higher indoor radon levels regardless of countertop material. Radon gas from soil can seep through cracks in the foundation.
Ventilation: Stagnant indoor air allows radon to accumulate over time. Ensure proper home ventilation through HVAC systems, windows, exhaust fans etc.
Water supply: Radon can enter homes dissolved in water from some private wells. Additional water treatment may be needed to remove radon.
Construction and condition: Poorly sealed foundations, cracks in walls and floors can allow soil gases including radon to enter from surrounding ground.
Season and weather: Radon levels fluctuate based on pressure, temperature, and humidity. Levels are often highest in winter.
Testing for Radon
The Surgeon General and EPA recommend all homeowners test for radon regardless of countertop material or home construction. Testing is the only way to know if radon is accumulating to hazardous levels in a home. Affordable do-it-yourself radon test kits are available online and at most hardware stores. Professional radon testing contractors can also perform the test. Call the National Radon Hotline at 1-800-SOS-RADON for more information on radon testing.
How to Reduce Radon Levels
If radon test results show levels at or above 4 pCi/L, take action to reduce radon levels through:
- Sealing cracks and openings in foundation walls and floors that may allow radon entry.
- Installing a drainage system or sump pump to reduce radon-containing water.
- Increasing under-slab ventilation.
- Installing a qualified radon mitigation system that uses a fan to vent radon outside before it enters home air.
Taking steps to reduce high radon levels can lower the risk of lung cancer. Consult a radon mitigation professional if your home tests high.
In summary, scientific studies consistently demonstrate that quartz countertops emit radon at extremely low levels well below EPA recommended hazard limits. While quartz itself emits minimal radon, improper home ventilation, foundation issues or high radon in water or soil can lead to dangerous radon accumulation in indoor air. Homeowners should test for radon according to public health guidelines regardless of countertop material. With proper testing and mitigation, the cancer risk posed by radon can be reduced.