Quartz countertops have become increasingly popular in recent years due to their durability, aesthetic appeal, and low maintenance requirements. However, some concerns have been raised about potential toxicity associated with quartz countertops. This article will examine the evidence regarding the safety of quartz countertops and provide guidance on making an informed decision about using them in your home.
What is Quartz?
Quartz is a mineral composed of silicon and oxygen atoms. It is one of the most abundant minerals found in the earth’s crust. Natural quartz is considered very stable and non-toxic.
Engineered quartz is made from crushed quartz crystals combined with resins and pigments. The resins typically used are epoxy or polyester. These resins act as a binder to hold the quartz particles together.
The most common engineered quartz countertop brands include Silestone, Caesarstone, Cambria, and Zodiaq.
Is There Toxicity Associated with Quartz Countertops?
Some concerns have been raised about potential toxicity of engineered quartz countertops:
- Resins – The epoxy resins used to bind quartz particles may contain bisphenol A (BPA) or other chemicals that could leach out of the countertop.
- Crystalline silica – Quartz contains crystalline silica which is considered a human lung carcinogen when inhaled over time in a dust form. Cutting or grinding quartz creates fine particles that could be inhaled.
- Radioactivity – Natural quartz contains trace amounts of naturally occurring radioactive elements like radium and uranium. Engineered quartz retains these natural radioisotopes.
- PVCs – Polyvinyl chloride (PVC) resins may be used in some quartz products. PVC can release toxic chemicals called phthalates.
Evidence of Toxicity
Despite these potential concerns, most scientific studies have found quartz countertops to be safe when properly manufactured, installed, and maintained:
- Independent lab tests show that toxic chemicals like phthalates and bisphenol A are not detectable in leading quartz brands.
- Any free crystalline silica is bound in the epoxy resin minimizing exposure risk. No elevated lung cancer risk was found in studies of workers who manufacture quartz countertops.
- Measured radioactivity is far below regulatory limits. You receive higher radiation doses from natural background sources than quartz countertops.
- When mechanically cut, ground or polished, some quartz countertop products have measured low levels of respirable crystalline silica. However, this would require extensive work on an installed counter. Following manufacturer instructions avoids this risk.
Tips for Safe Use of Quartz Countertops
While most evidence indicates quartz countertops pose little health risk, you can take some simple precautions for added peace of mind:
- Purchase from a reputable manufacturer that subjects their products to third-party toxicity testing.
- Make sure your countertop is professionally installed according to the manufacturer’s guidelines to minimize any airborne dust.
- Avoid excessive grinding, sanding or machining of your installed countertop which can release fine particulate. Have any major modifications done professionally.
- Seal any cracks that develop over time to prevent accumulation of food particles and moisture that could promote bacterial growth.
- Use a non-abrasive cleaner and avoid harsh chemicals which may slowly degrade the surface over many years.
- Have any concerns about noticeable pitting, etching or wear repaired to maintain a safe and sanitary surface. Replacing a small section of countertop is simpler than a whole new installation.
Should I Choose Another Countertop Material?
Quartz countertops remain popular because they are low maintenance, durable, and come in a variety of custom colors and patterns. Alternative countertop materials also have some disadvantages:
- Requires periodic sealing to prevent staining.
- Can chip if heavy objects are dropped on them.
- Etches easily requiring frequent polishing.
- Stains easily from spills.
- Durability issues – surfaces can bubble or peel.
- Not heat or scratch resistant.
- Can dent from impact.
- Shows fingerprints easily.
- Grout lines can get dirty.
- Cracking or chipping of tiles possible over time.
- Appearance can fade or stain over time if not sealed properly.
- Cracking and chipping is possible.
- Not waterproof – requires careful maintenance.
- Can stain, scratch or burn easily.
The Bottom Line
When maintained properly and purchased from a reputable brand, quartz countertops represent a durable, low maintenance, and safe option for kitchen and bathroom surfaces. They offer an attractive and sanitary solution. While occasional concerns get raised about potential toxicity, scientific analysis has found any risks to be minimal and within accepted safety limits. With some simple precautions, quartz countertops can be used safely in the home by most consumers. If you have any doubts, consult with your physician. But for most homeowners, quartz presents a solid countertop choice balancing functionality, aesthetics and peace of mind.
Frequently Asked Questions about Quartz Countertop Safety
Questions often arise regarding the potential health and safety issues surrounding quartz countertops. Here are answers to some of the most frequently asked questions:
Q: Does quartz release dangerous silica dust into the air in my home?
A: No. Silica dust exposure results from cutting, grinding, or sanding quartz. Installation by a professional, and avoiding modifications that require significant material removal, eliminates any silica risk. Any silica that was released during manufacturing is trapped and bound within the engineered slab.
Q: Can chemicals leach out of my quartz countertops?
A: Leading quartz manufacturers use non-toxic epoxy or polyester resins. Independent lab tests confirm that these counters do not leach chemicals under normal conditions of use. Avoid exposing quartz to strong solvents that could degrade the surface over time.
Q: Is radiation from quartz countertops dangerous?
A: Natural quartz contains trace uranium and radium. But measured radiation emitted from installed quartz countertops is barely detectable and insignificant compared to normal background radiation levels we all live with. You would need to have hundreds of square feet of quartz counters before any potential health impact, which is unlikely in a typical home.
Q: I’ve heard that breathing problems can result from quartz counters. Is this true?
A: Some studies have associated silica dust exposure from quartz countertop manufacturing with lung issues. However, properly installed quartz counters in your home present no significant inhalation risk as any free silica particles are trapped in the slab. Despite some material being released when cut, overall science does not support any lung disease or cancer risk from household quartz use.
Q: Can bacteria or molds grow on quartz since it is not natural stone?
A: Quartz has natural antimicrobial properties that discourage microbial growth. As an engineered product, quartz lacks the nooks and crannies found in natural stones where bacteria could lurk. With regular cleaning, quartz counters will remain free of hazardous microbial growth. Any food spills should be promptly cleaned up of course.
Q: Is it safe for my family if any pits, cracks or etching appear on my countertop?
A: Maintaining your quartz countertop according to manufacturer guidelines should minimize any significant surface damage. If wear does occur, have a professional refinish or replace any affected areas. This will keep your countertop safe and sanitary for food preparation.
While no material is 100% risk-free, scientific analysis shows that potential health hazards associated with quartz countertops are small, insignificant, and avoidable. Simple precautions like purchasing from quality brands and not extensively modifying installed counters make quartz a safe choice for most homeowners. Talk to your quartz supplier if you have any doubts or conditions that may impact your health risks. With proper selection, use, and maintenance, you can confidently enjoy the durability and beauty of quartz countertops in your home.