Brazilian Environmental Concerns Continue to Arise From Granite Quarrying

Posted in Granite social and envirnomental issues by Administrator on the October 19th, 2008

Here is an excellent story on locals dealing with the enviromental concerns from a granite quarry. Streams filling with sillt and mud, even drying up after water is diverted, mudslides, you name it. It is a Yahoo Babelfish translated page, so it take a minute to load.

COLATINA CITY, Brazil granite mining concerns

Another article is about illegal mining in Brazil. It seems there is a tax of 2 to 3% of the value of stone sold from the mine, which some companies don’t want to pay. So they open mines in rural areas, bribing the local officials to look the other way. In this case, even the property owners didn’t know the granite was being mined. This article is mostly about the controversy, ins and outs of the court fight over ownership and the amount of tax evasion going on.

Fighting for royalties and tax evasion by one granite company

Announcing the New Solid Surface Alliance Forum

For more info, to ask questions, or to find a tester, go to

We finially have the Forum up for the Solid Surface Alliance. Unregistered guests can browse all but one of the catagories, but if you want to ask a question or comment, you need to register. Registeration is easy, fill out the usual form, the system will email you with a link to activate your account, then just log in as usual.

The forum is brand new, so there won’t be much content until the membership grows, so add a question or comment if you visit to help get the conversations going. New forums are tough to start, people look around, see little going on, and leave. But, with the volumne of questions we get from the public, this forum will save lots of time and make the answers available for all interested internet viewers to find.

There is one section off limits to all but invited members, that is the Scientific Section which is dedicated for those who are working on the issues. There they can spreak freely, bounce ideas off each other, and not worry about info getting picked up and repeated elsewhere before the proper time.

Please contact us if you have any problems signing up or logging on. Remember you MUST click on the link in the email that is sent to you to activate your account. You might have to scroll down one page when you open the email to find the activation link.

For more info, to ask questions, or to find a tester, go to

Want A Peek At What A Granite Countertop Lawsuit Would Look Like?

Posted in Help for Shop owners by Administrator on the October 11th, 2008

For more info, go to

Most shops carry workers compensation insurance, which workers trade the right to sue for immediate health care and a guaranteed weekly benefit to replace lost wages while injured. What few know is that the workers comp insurance doesn’t prevent the injured employee from suing others that had even a minor part in the accident.

In this case, a worker was helping unload granite from an open top shipping container, one of those huge ocean going, metal containers. Somehow the worker was crushed severely when 8,000 pounds of granite broke loose and pinned him against the side of the container.

The employee sued the crane company whose crane was used for unloading the container, the Italian granite company that loaded the slabs into the container, a Swiss shipping company, the American owned granite distribution company, and the trucking company that delivered the container to the granite shop.

Of course all pointed the finger at the others, filing cross complaints in court. Everyone blamed all the others for the accident, which cost the worker two years of lost work, no doubt quite pleased with the $1.07 million dollar settlement.

This is exactly what will happen when granite fabricators start having health problems from working with hot granites or consumers start popping up with health problems that can potentially be traced back to a hot granite countertop. Everyone that touched that granite slab will be dragged into court, as well as the tooling companies that were used that created the dust.

Here is the article.

The Word Is Out, Juparana Bordeaux Is Being Dumped On the Market

Posted in As If the Industry wasn't crooked enough by Administrator on the October 8th, 2008

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Juparana Bordeaux, usually called Bordeaux for short, has earned a reputation for having higher than normal radiation levels. First the Houston TV report named it, then the samples sent to scientists turned out to be elevated as well. Lots of chatter on the internet on Bordeaux, enough that the stone has earned a really bad reputation.

So what would one do with a product in inventory that had earned a bad reputation? Return it to the company that sold it to you? Dump it in a land fill? Perhaps be responsible and send it to an Uranium processor and turn it into nuclear film?

Why no silly! We are talking about the granite industry. Apparently you just change the name of the stone, offer it at a cut rate price, and move the product out the door. The pictures below are from Apex Marble at 2455 Stevens Creek Blvd in San Jose, Bordeaux being sold as “Red Galaxy” or “Diamond Red” depending on which salesman was asked. This stone averaged 50 to 70 uR/hr (microroetgens per hour), which is 12 to 17 times background radiation levels.

Click on picture thumbnails to enlarge, then use the back button to return to the site.

Juparana Bordeaux being sold as “Red Diamond” or “Red Galaxy”

And another Bordeaux measured at another yard

Bordeaux granite showing 382 uR/hr Gamma radiation<

“Doubt Is Their Product”, the One Book To Read If You Want To Understand the Fight

Posted in Recent Info on the testing effort by Administrator on the October 5th, 2008

For more info, to ask questions, or to find a tester, go to

Marcus Aurelius, the Roman Emporer, once wrote that nothing is new, all has gone before. In the case of granite testing and the fight to prevent it from happening, one can look into the granite industry’s play book. The parallels between big tobacco, lead paint manufacturers, asbestos manufactures, and many other industries that sucessfully delayed standards on their products are right there to read.

David Michaels is an epidemiologist and director of the Project on Scientific Knowledge and Public Policy at the George Washington University School of Public Health and Health Services. He once served as the Assisant of Energy for Envirnomental, Safety, and Health, an agency devoted to protecting those working for and living near nuclear plants. Mr. Michaels wrote a book called “Doubt Is Their Product”, and expose of the Product Defense Industry, those who work with manufacturers of dangerous products in an attempt to slow down the day of reckoning.

The Product Defense Industry has many methods, which bring back memories of the tobacco wars going on back in the last century. Most over 45 years of age will remember watching tobacco officials standing before congress, defending their product as harmless.

One of their methods is to hire their own scientists, then publish in captive “scientific journals”.

Or they will request the data from reputable studies, then apply unusual methods to dilute the conclusions, trashing the original study.

Then there is the tactic of attacking the activists or scientists on the other side, attempting to discredit when they have no other methods. This one ought to be familular with this blogs readers.

Another method, is to use Freedom of Information requests to steal info from Federally funded scientists, even before the study is done, which the granite industry is currently doing with several researchers. One of the Radon forums I am a member of recently had several state officials mentioning the letters they had recieved from the MIA, demanding all info on the subject, as well as requesting that Build Clean be forced to turn over their data on the as of yet unfinished Houston countertop survey.

Then there is the DAQ, or Data Access Act and the Data Quality act, which the hazardous material industry can use to force government scientists to change their studys and their conclusions. Considering that epidemiologist studies can take 20 to 30 years, interfering with the studies can eliminate any truly damaging studies from coming out.

So from the lead paint industry’s use of purity, health, and prosperity to brand their product, we now have the granite industry using anti bacterial, natural, and safe to brand their product. The MIA even has a brocure with an infant playing with granite blocks! So it should come with no surprise that the granite industry stoops to personal attacks and strong arming researchers.

But, apparently the hiring of Cohn & Wolfe, the big tobacco PR firm, is changing their ways. If you look up the “Truth about Granite and Radon” on the MIA website, you will find that they removed the picture of the baby playing with the granite blocks from that brochure.

Absolutely lacking in morality and concern for their customers, these guys will do anything to continue selling the hot granite.

A Long Time Member of the Solid Surface Industry Attacks

Posted in Who Is Attempting to Stop the Testing Effort? by Administrator on the October 5th, 2008

For more info, to ask questions, or to find a tester, go to

Politics and agenda, be it the office, the town hall, or the hallways of an university, they are always present. The solid surface industry is no different, and in the granite testing controversy many of the former champions of the solid surface industry are turning into opponents of testing granite.

I call granite the crack cocaine of the countertop industry. Cheap material, high selling cost, thus huge markups, no warranty, no training neccasary, no one keeping track of unhappy customers. Like a drug, granite can debase those who touch it if they aren’t careful. From working with materials that have long warranites and strict standards, they learn that with granite anything goes cause there is no one to say otherwise. Like a drug, it can trash a shop’s reputation for quality work, and lead to a lot of unhappy customer.

But, it pays boat loads of money for as long as it lasts.

I posted this message on an industry forum called Fabnet in response to an email I recieved. Russ Lee, a long time Issfa member is currently attempting to convince Issfa (International Solid Surface Fabricators Association) members to drop the pretense that Issfa is representing the solid surface industry’s interests. He is to lead a change in the organization that will include all countertop materials. This is like the Beef Council deciding to represent pork producers, “It’s whats for dinner” ? Which one?

Here is the thread.

I have been asked many times why the solid surface industry doesn’t support the granite testing effort. To start with, there are only two members of their Board of Directors that are solid surface only shops, the rest, six or more, are all granite shops some of which don’t even feature solid surface on their websites.

So it is the Beef Council being run by a bunch of chicken farmers.
Now, the post was copied and pasted below.

Many fabnetters have confided in me over the few years I have been here, and I am sure I have with those folks a reputation for keeping confidences where it it warranted.

However, on occasion, the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the one. This is such an occasion.

Russ Lee is said to be a level headed person, unflappable was one description recently given. I understand that many respect his judgement on things related to the solid surface industry. Others will wonder why I revealed such a horrible personal attack against me, knowing that the stoners will post it out of context and without the following rebuttal. Easy answer, I don’t doubt that I am right and don’t really care if stupid people show their a**.

There is another Russ Lee that was revealed in this email sent to me tonight. If anyone credible doubts this email, I will forward it to you.

“Hi Al,

I hope you will take this in the spirit in which it is intended. Even though I don’t know you well personally I would like to share some experiences I have had in my own life. My wife of 31 years suffers from bi-polar disease. My son-in-law’s father also suffers from bi-polar disease and I have had personal interactions with a few other people over the years who also suffer from the same ailment. As such, I have had occasion to observe the classic symptoms which, I can honestly say, almost always follow a very similar pattern. The nature of your posts lately make me wonder if you might have a touch of the disease yourself.

A characteristic of bi-polar disease is the manic stage in which, as my son-in-law puts it, you become 20 feet tall and bullet proof. That’s kind of a flippant way to describe it, but it is characterized by huge energy bursts, trouble sleeping, a feeling that the person knows more about a given topic than anyone else, that they are often “called” to change the world, and usually experience a feeling of extraordinary well being. Also part of the disease for many people is some paranoia.

Most people with the disease are adamant that nothing is wrong and will vehemently oppose any efforts by family members to get help. Sometimes they become violent.

Now, I may be completely wrong in my suspicions, but a lot of what I see on the FabNet seems to fit the pattern. Your recent statements about death threats (especially after reading the posts that make you say that) kind of set off the warning bell. I know it is presumptuous of me to even say this to you, and I hope you take in the spirit of someone who has lived with the disease most of his adult life. Please think about it, and if you think it may be appropriate, consult a doctor. Bi-polar disease is a chemical imbalance in the brain. It is easily treated, although the sufferer will have to eventually give up the manic phases (the extraordinary feeling of energy and well-being) to find a balance.

Your friend,

Russ “

Now, Russ has had little contact with me over the years, mainly an email exchange allowing the use of his Wikipedia post on solid surface, then later asking to remove the Wiki post so as not be known as supporting solid surface on the SSA site. Not a problem, I took his work down immediately after he requested it. But except for butting heads on Fabnet on occasion, that is the extent of our relationship. One can understand that a letter such as his is not sent as a “friend”, but as a passive/aggressive attack.

Let’s face it, Russ came here with an agenda, which of itself is not a problem, but he also wants to spread his information without being questioned as to it’s validity or purpose. Russ is not at all happy that he has to defend his statements, nor does he want me asking the tough questions despite the fact that were they actually answered, it might push his project forward. So Russ decides to up the ante with a personal attack in the guise of concern.

Russ, let’s look at what you wrote and address it point by point.

First off, my condolences with your family troubles, I understand you have dealt with far more than this. However, it seems this issue runs rampant in your family, not mine, and perhaps you are overly sensitive to the matter, either that or “you might have a touch of the disease yourself”.

Russ, I have never described myself as “20 foot tall and bullet proof”. Dealing with the multitude of ignorant opponents I have been blessed with certainly could lead down that road, but I have dealt with life enough to understand the danger of becoming over confident. Those on Fabnet whose opinions I respect, I consider their advice very seriously. Ask Tom. Others might mean well, but speak from ignorance of the subject, so I explain why I don’t follow their advice and do as I think best. My spending several years educating myself on the subject matter, and the advice of many experts in the fields of interest may preclude indulging well meaning individuals.

Huge energy boosts….well, it has been a little over two years. How long do these “bursts” last? I sleep like a baby Russ, comes from doing what is right. Try that sometimes. As to knowing more about a given topic, well, in the Radon/radiation/granite issues, I do know more than anyone in the countertop industry. Were you trustworthy, I would send you hundreds and hundreds of email exchanges I have had with the country’s leading experts on Radon and radiation, where you could see my manner with those who have far more knowledge than I on these matters.

Russ, many of leaders of the effort to set standards and protocols are in my email group that I run on the granite issues. They value me for several reasons, I provided the hottest samples they have ever seen (understand that they were given low samples for their studies, my samples kept them from publishing an incomplete study), I know enough about their world that I can offer a lay mans opinion on how their work will be taken, I know enough about the granite business that I can answer questions about the trade practices (or I have the contacts within the industry that I can get the answers), and most importantly, I am stubborn enough to dig to the bottom of the pile sifting for clues that make their work easier and better.

I also spend lots of money procuring and shipping samples to them. They know that what ever they need, I will bust my tail finding it for them. In short, Russ, we have the same goal, finding the truth of the matter. Basically, where a man puts his treasure, there also lies his heart. Russ, they trust me cause they understand me.

Now, I see you are also trying to “change the world” with regard to Issfa. Perhaps you should look at your own emotional health to seek out any hints of abnormal behavior?

Now, my family, especially my lovely wife, are very supportive of what I do, nor would you have any proof that anyone wants me to “get help”. The only ones that have threatened violence have been the stone industry members. Allowing of course, that your letter itself is not passive/aggressive violence in itself.

And the statements about the death threats. Russ, Russ, Russ….. you are so inadequate to this task. Consider that many fabnetters also keep up with the stoneadvice site for several years. Many have seen the posts about me on the SFA site, mentioning physical violence, driving down to OKC to take care of me, one mentioned that Kansas still used “hanging” and that maybe Oklahoma did as well. Plenty of little snips about meeting me at a stone show and “educating me”, or settling this in “the octagon”. Then there is the “Dark Room”, well let’s just say there was enough posted there to have a lot of fun with the SFA should they push the issue.

And Russ, you wouldn’t believe some of the emails we have gotten. The most disturbing one threatened to “rape” all the females in my family. Do this, call Joanna Duggan and chat with her about this issue. She and Mike faced the same thing several times.

Do these threats give me pause? Sure, and we have taken the appropriate precautions. We like guns here in OKC, Russ. Us country boys can take care of our own. But I don’t lose a minute of sleep nor do I consider stopping this effort to bring the issues to light.

And finally Russ, you wrote:

“….I hope you take in the spirit of someone who has lived with the disease most of his adult life. ”

Bingo….. Russ, there is a process called projection. A disturbed person takes his problems and “projects” them on to their imagined enemy or opponent. However, always, always, these poor souls will reveal themselves with mannerisms or simply tell you what you need to know if you listen patiently. Some call it a Freudian slip, but I believe it is simply that most human beings are adverse to lie completely, they just have to leave a clue as a warning. I hope you take this in the spirit it is intended, but perhaps you yourself could benefit from consulting a doctor.

And yes, it is very presumptuous for you to offer your opinions and I have never been your friend, nor would I want to be friends with someone that has such a lack of integrity such as you have shown with this email.

Russ, my core belief is one best desribed by the Chinese as “Taoism”, a belief that things happen for a reason, that one must go with the flow of events. To do so invites incredible events to take place, as one is simply doing what fate intends.

I see life as proof that someone or something is in charge. Call it God, Fate, destiny, Karma, any number of names that we poor humans have created to fill the void, but it is there. Any sucesses I have a part in are not my sucesses, I am like a tool laying in a tool box. A hand reaches in needing a tool for a task and I cooperate. Other tools feel the “hand” upon them, and violenty evade, which is where the majority of human suffering has it’s start.

So Russ, it ought to be very clear to most readers where things lay in this thread. You desparately want to help turn Issfa away from even the apperances of doing what many, many members paid their dues to do, support the solid surface industry. You seem to idolize Oxley, despite his shortcomings and lack of professionalism, perhaps from too long waiting in his shadow.

Now is your chance to shine, but there is that damned Al asking awkward questions.

Just answer the questions, Russ. Doing a personal attack just shows that you can’t answer the charges without damaging your agenda.

Post script:

A few hours later, the moderator pulled the entire thread for “administrative review”, then deleted a offensive post from a stoner, then returned the thread to the Member Section for all to see. The next day, another former supporter of the testing effort, Lenny Elbon, posted actual physical threats along with vauge claims that I had posted misleading information.

A few hours later, Andy Graves, site owner, banned me from the site for thirty days, for “continued disrespectful posts”. One must assume that to respond to another’s disrespect is itself disrespectful in Andy’s world.

The truth of the matter is much more simple. I had been getting warnings that Andy was searching for an excuse, that I was bad for the advertising revenue on his site. Back in June, right after the first TV story on the Houston granite, Andy posted some misleading info on his site, claiming he tested 2,000 slabs of granite and found no slabs of concern. Now, a few weeks before, he did post some 60 and 80 uR/hr slabs, which would give you 117 mR per year with four hours a day use of the countertop. Next, he declared Build Clean to be a fraud, and said he was contacting his friends at the MIA.

After the New York Times story came out, all of a sudden Andy posts pictures showing 150 uR/hr granite, using the same meter he had used when he claimed he couldn’t find any hot granites. The problem was that by then he had already shipped my meter back to me, proving that he had already found the hot slab, but witheld the fact for what ever reason.

So now we know why Issfa didn’t support the testing effort, and now other long time solid surface industry members are pushing Issfa to drop it’s representation of solid surface and quartz, then become an organization that sells training to fabricators. The problem is the guys that spent years and thousands of dollars helping build Issfa into something. Another issue is that these days, no one can sell information, too much available for free on the internet. The manufacturers will train you for solid suface fabrication, and there is no formal training required for stone or quatrz.

In the end, the solid surface community will get what it deserves. The Issfa vote was around 80 to 30 to drop the exclusive representation of solid surface and quartz, showing a split as well as absmally low numbers that even cared.

What a way to run an industry.

I Bought Bad Granite, Do I Have Any Recourse?

Posted in I Bought A Bad Granite Countertop by Administrator on the September 30th, 2008

For more info, to ask questions, or to find a tester, go to

We get emails all the time asking about some of the issues that plague some granites types. In the past, I have always helped the people privately where I could. Now the volume is increasing so why not create a page for this purpose?

If you have had a bad experience with either the material or the fabricator, please post a comment with as much detail as you feel is releveant. I might ask for more detail, perhaps privately if it might impact the fabricator’s or slab seller’s business. There are websites for “rip off reports”, I’d prefer to leave them to that business and let me simply answer any technical questions or provide info on the trade practices that are germane to the problem.

Please stick to the facts, the readers will draw their own conclusions on whether you were fairly treated.

How Much Effect Does Ventilation Have on Radon Produced Inside a Home?

Posted in Recent Info on the testing effort by Administrator on the September 24th, 2008

For more info, to ask questions, or to find a tester, go to

One of the dodges the stone industry is using to minimize the risks of granite countertop Radon emission is that a little ventilation will solve the problem. The info below is from an University study were a 2 1/2 square foot opening was added to the normal leakage present in a home (ACH).

Now stop and think of the effect that a 2 1/2 square foot hole would have on our homes heat and cooling bill. Then consider how much of the Radon is still present even with this large amount of fresh air.

One of the reasons Radon levels are kept lower despite a continual exhalation of new Radon from granite is that outside air is continually leaking into a home at varying rates. Exactly how much fresh air coming in is usually a guess, but there have been studies showing from .5 ACH (Air Change per Hour, or how many times the air is completely replaced) to .035 ACH, with .35 ACH being that adopted by ASHRAE (American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air Conditioning Engineers).

In an effort to bring some facts to bear, there was a study done by two scientists at the University of Colorado. These two Physicists looked at the air exchange rates in multi room house models.

The Correlation Between Small Ventilation Rates And Indoor Radon Concentrations Using A Multi Room House Model.

Their model was six rooms, interconnected, but with one room having an operable window to outside air. With the window closed, the rooms reached the maximum levels quickly, around 12 hours, assuming an air sharing rate of .5 ACH between rooms and and leakage rate of .35 ACH (normal air leaks present in all homes). Their result mirrored the result they got from figuring the home as one large room. See graph 2.

In the next graph result, Figure 3, a window was opened 10″ six hours after the test started and left open for the duration of the test. Note that the Radon levels dropped severely in room 1, the one with the open window, but the other rooms didn’t drop that much in comparison. Air exchange for room 1 (open window) was 1 ACH. The air exchange remained at .5 ACH between rooms, with the same .35 ACH from leakage.

The next graph, Figure 4., had the air exchange between rooms increased to 2 ACH per hour which is thought to be a normal rate for rooms open to each other. Room 1 still had an open window and remained at 1 ACH. More Radon reduction, but only about 20% for the farthest room. Strangely enough, room 1 had a slight increase due to the Radon being brought in from the other rooms.

Figure 5., represented a “tight” house with an ACH of .1, exactly what Bill Brodhead was reporting in his concrete high rise condo Radon study. This ACH is reported to not be uncommon. The ACH between rooms remains at 2, with room 1 still having an open window and a 1 ACH rate. Now the Radon levels are much lower, with room 1 having a 60% drop, even room 6 is at half it’s normal Radon levels.

Finally, Figure 6 represents the same conditions in Figure 5 graph, with one exception, the window being open for only 24 hours. This affected the final values quite a bit, with a 30% Radon decrease in room 1 and a 26% decrease in room 6.

One of the conclusions was that a window opened 10″ will cut the Radon levels by 10% to 50% if the window remains open. What struck me as important was that even a large amount of ventilation did not eliminate the Radon buildup, but merely reduced it. With 1.3 pCi/L of Radon (the average level in US homes) having a death rate of 21,000 per year, it would seem that ventilation alone will not eliminate the danger.

The entire study can be found at
I would guess that an average window was around 36″ wide, which if opened 10″, would give you a 2 1/2 square foot hole in the wall. For those that argue that ventilation alone will solve the problem of hot granite emitting Radon in homes, this should give them some pause.

So a Little Ventilation And I Don’t Have To Worry?

Posted in Recent Info on the testing effort by Administrator on the September 23rd, 2008

Another reason to reject the claims that ventilation alone will allow hot granite countertops to be sold is the long term efficiency of the ventilation systems.

Here is a study, Post Mitigation Radon Concentrations in Minnesota Homes,
by Dr. Daniel Steck, one of the Radon scientists leading the granite testing effort.

A total of 150 homes were chosen from past clients of six professional Radon mitigators and the Radon levels rechecked after from six months to seven years. The study found that the mitigation dropped the levels from an average of 10.3 down to .8 pCi/L.

Potential causes loss of mitigating ventilation are blockages, fan failures, someone turning the unit off, and leakage. A previous study in 2005 by Dr. Steck found some homes that did not do well after mitigation efforts, with an average of 2.9 pCi/L and 28% exceeding the EPA action level of 4 pCi/L. But 12 of those homes were professionally mitigated and had lower Radon levels, averaged at 1.7 pCi/L with only 8% exceeding the action level.

In the recent study we are discussing, 3% of the 129 homes returning measurements had average Radon levels over the EPA action level of 4 pCi/L and 6% had at least one measurement above 4 pCi/L. Homes with 3 pCi/L were about 6% and 9% of the homes were at 2 pCi/L.

Dr. Steck also addressed the costs of mitigation per life saved. Keeping in mind that these are sub slab depressurization systems so the only air exchange is that seeping through the floor, not air being sucked out of the interior of the home. Despite that, installation costs can be as much as $1,800 for a home, $110 for each test to ensure the system is working (once per year, is that safe enough?), heating costs between $70 and $500 per year, six replacement fans in the 70 year life span, and electricity costs all can add up to one percent of the EPA’s value of a statistical life ( $6,900,000.00) or $69,000.00 for each life saved. Far less than a fraction of the medical care needed for a single cancer case.

Now, if we use the common estimates of air infiltration in homes (.35 ACH) we find that up to one third of your yearly heat and cooling costs are wasted.

Looking back at the Colorado study where they used an open window (10″ gap), this would allow 40 cubic feet of air exchange per minute. Imagine the cost to heat and cool a home with that amount of leakage on top of the usual waste from normal air exchange.

No matter how you look at this, the Radon mitigation costs to remove any Radon from a granite countertop would be much more than anyone would imagine, some where between $69,000 and $13,230 for the life of the home. In this day of concern over the planet, carbon foot prints, and energy costs, it just makes little sense to add more heat loss so one can have a granite countertop.

AARST Conference Results

Posted in Recent Info on the testing effort by Administrator on the September 18th, 2008

The AARST (American Association of Radon Scientists and Technologists) annual conference concluded this after noon. We were able to attend on Tuesday when most of the granite countertop information was presented. This article will be a short description of the significant papers and studies presented, with an indepth article on the most important studies coming soon.

The first was a presentation on Natural Radioactivity in Building Materials – Czech Experience and European Legislation. The Czechs have had radiation standards for building materials, including granite, since 1987, with both Radon and Gamma radiation being covered. Gamma dose from materials like granite and concrete must not be over .3 to 1 mSv per year exposure. To convert that into mR, add two zeros (1 mSv=100 mR), so we are looking at 30 to 100 mR maximum extra Gamma exposure per year from the material. Our US standard for total extra radiation dose is close, 100 mR per year additional radiation above the normal dose. What is significant it that the Czech level starts at 30 mR, which is close to the US suggested limit of 25% of the 100 mR from a single source.

At the show there was a small 3″ diameter core sample from a granite countertop, with 1 mR of Gamma radiation per hour being emitted. This level was measured with a very expensive and accurate meter used by Health Physicists, considered the most accurate meter available that mimics a true dose to a human. At that 1,000 uR (same as 1 mR) level, thirty hours of close contact would put you over the limit from that hot spot alone, much less the rest of the countertop. Another interesting point was that our small PM 1703’s measured the core sample at the same rate, 1,030 uR/hr or 1.03 mR, only .03% high.

Another interesting point of this paper was the finding of .1 air change rate per hour, ACR. Other papers also identified .1 as being a common result for a new home built to energy efficient standards. The MIA paid Dr. Chyi to do a paper in the spring of this year, but they claimed that up to 6 ACH was common, or 60 times the rate that the Czech study found possible. A more recent paper that the MIA paid Dr. McCarthy to put together claimed .5 ACH (although they called it AER). The MIA continues to use both papers, despite the contradictions, and now it seems a far lower rate should be used.

Another interesting point was the perception of the risks from these contaminated homes. The risk from Radon and the risk from the Gamma radiation were roughly equal, but the public tended to worry far more about the radiation than the Radon.

The Czech levels of allowed Radium were 120 bq/Kg, or 10 pCi/Kg of Radium maxium allowed in a building material. Compare that 10 pCi per kilogram to the 1,030 per gram found in the Houston granite countertop. Thousands of times over the Czech allowable level.

The paper ends by saying that low radiation level material should be used whenever possible and that the public should be aware of their choice in the matter.

Next up of interest for the countertop fabricator or consumer was Elevated Radon Levels In High Rise Condominiums From Concrete Emanation. The author, Bill Brodhead, has also been helping on our granite testing effort.

What was relevant about this study was that concrete, as in concrete countertops, can also add to the Radon levels in a home. From 35 to 74 pCi/Sf/Hr of Radon was exhaling from these concrete samples, more than some low level granites. Moisture was found to raise Radon exhalation levels from 10 to 15%, which was predicted by our Uranium Geologist. Also, this study used the “meter under a bowl” testing method which has been lambasted as being an improper method of measuring Radon from granite countertops, yet the method is completely accepted in the Radon industry for this very purpose, measuring large objects like floors, walls, ceilings, and now granite countertops.

The paper also addressed elevated Gamma levels from the concrete, not a lot, only 10 uR/hr, but with so much mass emitting that 10 uR/hr, it increases a persons cancer risk a small amount. We feel that this should be a choice, an informed choice, for a consumer, whether or not to expose themselves and their families to this low level dose.

Air Change Rate, the percentage of indoor air that is replaced in a home per hour from leaks, doors opening and closing, and so on. Once it was thought that 1 ACH was the average, now it seems that homes built in the fifties and sixties are around .5 ACH, recently built homes are now assumed to be around .3 ACH, with an energy efficient home (most new homes are built to those standards) being at .1 ACH. Since the ACH is the largest factor in Radon buildup, this is a very important development. However, this study found even lower actual ACH rates, as low as .08, .03, .04 and .035 ACH. Taking the recent McCarthy paper, which used a .5 ACH rate, this shows that that rate can be from 5 to 16 times too low in some cases.

Next up was Emission of Radon From Decorative Stone by Dr. Kitto, Haines, and Hernando DiazArauzo. Dr. Kitto has been supporting the granite testing effort since late last year, initially sponsored by Build Clean, Cambria, and Sensa (Silestones natural stone product). The study linked to above is what was supposed to be published this fall, but newer stone samples that tested far, far, higher than the 35 stones tested in the study caused Dr. Kitto to hold off publication till he can add more stones to the study.

The Solid Surface Alliance provided most of those new super hot samples, which made this study turn from a pretty good resource to support the theory that some granites are dangerous and turned it into a slam dunk, debate over with, let em attempt to spin this study.

What Dr. Kitto revealed at the Radon conference on this subject is not on the link above. The study has been reopened, and what isn’t finished isn’t published. The initial study was submitted for peer review though, so one can use the info safely, plus the presentation in front of the packed room at the Radon conference was the toughest peer review process possible.

I can however, reveal some of the new info provided. We have to be careful, the MIA has been sending demand letters to those testing granite, demanding data and protocols even before the studies are finished, even in cases where third parties had paid for the work. Also, the MIA filed a Freedom of Information request on Dr. Kitto, attempting to steal his work for their own uses, or perhaps so that they can have months to attempt to discredit the work prior to publication. Two representitives from the MIA, including their Tech advisor were present though, so a littl released now will cause no harm.

One of the samples was found to be emitting 40,000 counts per minute, or 40,000 radiation decays per minute, 40,000 gamma rays. Compare this to the MIA/Langmuir paper that claimed only .85 of a decay per year from an average granite countertop. My calculator won’t go that high, but it has to be in the trillions of times more radiation than that claimed by the MIA. The next dodge that has been used was that Potassium 40 was releasing harmless Alpha radiation. Not in this case, because this was a scintillator that measured only Gamma. Only 10% of this radiation came from Potasium 40, which emits 11% of it’s radiation as Gamma.

Thirty square feet of this material would have 7.25 million pCi of Radium. A lot huh? But don’t forget the rest of the radio nucleides that WILL be present with the Radium. There are 15 other radio nucliedes present in the Uranium decay chain as well! Don’t forget the Thorium decay chain for the Thorium present.

This same thirty square feet of granite in a home would raise the Radon level to 24 pCi/L, six times the EPA action level! . Average Radon levels in US homes are 1.3 pCi/L with 21,000 deaths per year associated with those average Radon levels. Remember this when the MIA claims that granite countertops are below the EPA action levels, even the .27 pCi/L they said Crema Bordeaux has a huge death rate associated with it, if you used .27 pCi/L as the average home Radon level, an extra 4,375 extra lung cancer deaths per year would result.

Dr. Kitto did say that normal ventilation would reduce this 24 pCi/L to half, or 12 pCi/L.

Another very revealing thing showed up in Dr. Kitto’s work, granite is far, far, far, more porous than anyone dreamed. He took a known high emission granite, put a known low emitting granite on top, then sealed his meter and cover on top of the low level stone. Guess what? The Radon was only a little lower, the high level slab’s Radon penetrated the other stone like it was hardly there. Dr. Kitto said that he found that any Radon emitted by Radium decay inside the stone will get out. Compare that with the .1 emanation Rate that the MIA/Dr. Chyi claimed was possible.

Sealers were also discounted as a way to prevent exhalation of Radon, Kitto said Radon easily penetrates sealer, or it just forces the Radon out the back or sides of the stone. Other researches like Brodhead and Levy have also shown that when one side exhales less, the other side exhales a whole lot more, sixty times more in one case. So fiberglass and resin on the back side is not a solution either, the Radon gas will find a way out.

Quartz was found to emanate no Radon in most cases, with extremely low levels found in some quartz colors, so low as to be of infestinally small risks.

Bill Brodhead presented another paper on Measuring Radon and Thoron Emanation From Concrete and Granite With Continous Radon Monitors and E-Perms.

Most of the 26 page paper deals with measuring concrete, but page 20 starts dealing with granite countertop materials. Hmmm, I wonder where he got the samples? He brings up the difference that can occur in exhalation rates from front of the stone to the back. One sample, a Juparana Bordeaux (usually called Bordeaux) had a very heavily mesh and resin back that stopped 98% of the Radon exhalation from the backside. The Crema Bordeaux sample had 8 times more Radon coming off the back side than the front side. The Niagara Gold had 40% more Radon exhaled from the back than from the front. It was recomended that any granite countertop tests include a test on the bottom of the stone as well as the top.

Next was a table of results in several formats, Table 10 in the study, pCi/Sf/Hr is the one column that interests us, the others will be useful in Europe where they use different units for measuring. Brodhead found as muc has 490 pCi per square foot of granite per hour. Compare that to the MIA/McCarthy paper that claimed only .1 to 34 pCi/SF/Hr Radon emanation, with the average being 1.9 pCi/SF/Hr. Looks like he is 14 times too low on his maximum Radon emission (it is far more, Kitto found one stone 8 times Brodhead’s maximum).

Next up is a table of data, Table 12 in the paper. This info is very unsettling to me personally because it de coupled the Gamma radiation levels from the Radon emanation. We thought that having a low Gamma rate would prevent high Radon levels automaticaly.

Look at Table 12, page 23 of the study. Compare the Gamma and the Radon exhalation for the Niagara Gold (NG), 99.3 uR/hr gives off 490 pCi/Sf/Hr of Radon, or a ratio of 4.9 pCi per uR/hr of Gamma. Then compare that to the Four Seasons sample, 25 uR/hr of Gamma but 508 pCi/Sf/Hr of Radon, or 20.3 pCi per uR/hr! Holy crap! Four times more per unit of Gamma.

This means that you can’t use high Gamma levels to screen for “safe” granites when it comes to Radon.

Brodhead then went on to calculate the increase in Radon levels with the Juparana Bordeaux (JB), the Crema Bordeaux (CB), and the Niagara Gold (NG). Look at Table 13 on page 24, .1 to .7 for granite and .8 pCi/L for a concret countertop. Pretty low, but notice the Four Seasons was not included in the chart. Before I say what it was, let me explain something. All researches will have a point they are trying to get across with their work, Bill is no exception. Bill believes, rightly so, that concrete is the larger danger for Radon because of the sheer quanity present in a condo. So he left the Four Seasons result out of Table 13, but he did give it to us verbally, as well as on a power point slide that went with his report.

He took a real world home that he tested in his previous study on concrete emitting Radon, 822 square feet with a .035 ACH, and 40 square feet of countertop. Using the Four Seasons granite sample, and it was an entire square foot measured, not a hot spot, he found 220,000 pCi of Radon coming off per hour.

The homes average Radon level would have risen 3.1 pCi/L, so if you had the average Radon level of outide air present (.40) you would have had 3.5 pCi/L present. If you had the average 1.3 pCi/L of Radon, you would have had 4.4 pCi/L of Radon present in the home. Brodhead said that the bedroom level would have been around 2 pCi/L of Radon, and the kitchen itself would have had 4 pCi/L of Radon from the granite countertop.

Absolute proof that granite countertops CAN significantly raise the Radon levels in homes. End of debate.

An interesting point for the concrete countertop fabricators, the cement accounts for most of the Radon, the sand is second, the gravel is the third largest emanation source. Most likely because of the size of the particle from what research I have done on Radon from aggragrete.

The last session of the day, and the longest, was a panel discussion on whether or not Radon testers should test granite countertops for radiation as well. The fact that they should test granite counter tops was not up for debate, all said that the papers presented by Brodhead and Kitto proved the need for Radon testing of granite countertops.

First off was Dr. Kitto, who repeated some of his findings, and said that granite tops must be measured for radiation but he wasn’t sure who should do it.

Next was a gentleman that was a Health Physicist who brought up the Health Physicist Society’s (HPS) position on granite countertops and radiation, and he was not kind to the HPS. I need to verify his name, as there were three panel members that I didn’t put name and
face together. But he had some definite opinons on Radon and radiation in granite. First off he brought up the HPS’s computation of only .13 pCi/L of Radon increase from a granite countertop which was supposed to be conservative. This Health Physicist said other wise.

He specifically pointed out the major flaws in the HPS statement, that using radiation measurments to attempt to show the Radium content was ridiculous. The HPS decided that 8 pCi/gram of Radium was average when they had no proof of that (Houston slab lab report said 1,030 pCi/g of Radium present).

Then he attacked the HPS exhalation rate of only 10% of the total Radon being emanated (emanation is the production of Radon, exhalation is how much actually gets out of the stone). Using Dr. Kitto’s test results, plus what he has learned in his very long carreer, he found the 10% claim utterly unsupported by any scientific proof.

Then he attacked the HPS claim of .5 ACH (Air Changes per Hour) to be far lhigher than reasonable, quoting other studies including Brodhead and Kitto.

He concluded that the HPS simply did not have any facts to back up their claim that granite is 100% safe nor did they properly support their finding of .13 pCi/L of Radon from a 20 uR/hr granite countertop.

This Health Physicist had one concern with Radon testers testing for radiation, he felt that they would need a Health Physicist’s support to set protocols for measuring, then also for interpreting the results. Measuring radiation is old hat for the radiation industry, but it is usually only one radioactive substance with maybe only one radio isotope. Granite has a lot of radioactive isotopes, making calibration of the meters a nightmare. It is looking like first a Gamma spectrometer reading will have to be done (think $20,000 for a good, accurate portable meter). Then a radio chemist can calculate the total radiation being emitted. Then a Health Physicist can tell you what human tissue damage will occur.

One thing though, the Health Physicists seem to restrict themselves to immeadiate damage, ignoring low level, long term damage. Their jobs depend on doing just that, witout exposing workers to radiation, you can’t fuel, run, or clean up a reactor. You can’t give a MRI or an X ray if you worry about low dose damage to DNA.

I belive that we must find oncologists, cancer doctors, to get an idea of the true danger of low dose radiation.

So complicated……

Next was Dr. Steck, who was eloquent but brief. He supported the other panelists concerns on granite, Radon, and radiation and said that granite must be tested for both. He brought up his earlier work for the granite industry (Cold Springs granite company back in 1988 or so) that was found to be low for American quarried granite. He pointed out that these imported granites were far different and that the potential for elevated Radon was there and had to be addressed.

Incidently, the two samples I sent Dr. Steck were 50 and 100 times more Radon emanation than anything he had tested before. He reconstructed the data from his notes back in 1988 (his original copy was lost) and sent it to me months ago, which is what most scientists will do if you express an interest in their work.

Now Dr. Steck is another of our wonderful scientists that is voluntarily supporting this testing of granite effort. He showed me graphs of the results from Radon emanation tests he had done on two of the samples the SSA has sent so far and is willing to test more samples as we find them. We have our hottest Niagara Gold sample out on loan to Air Chek (yes, the MIA’s ally in this, but they needed to be shown the truth) and our hottest Four Seasons sample out to Stan Liebert’s lab, but we are going to route them and other samples to Dr. Steck to support his research.

Bill Brodhead was next, and repeated his ACH findings that said some granites Radon will raise some homes levels of Radon. He also pointed out the combined levels being emitted by granite, tile and the concrete in a typical home. Bill said it was possible to get 20,000 pCi of granite Radon, 20,000 pCi of tile based Radon, and 70,000 pCi of Radon from the concret in a home. Added up, that is a huge Radon risk in a home. Brodhead repeated the need to test the bottom of the granite, as well as finding the hotter spots in the granite since they will be putting out the most radiation usually.

Bill pointed out that the 4 pCi/L of Radon caused by 40 square feet of the Four Seasons granite based Radon was equivilent to 600 mR per year of radiation, six times the recomended extra exposure over the normal radiation.

The official AARST position from the panel seemed to be that there was a real need to test for radiation, but they were concerned about liablitity and the experience needed to test properly. They fielded questions from the audience that tended to support the testing of granite for radiation. Finding a Health Physicist to partner will seemed to be the best idea if a Radon guy wanted to offer the service.

That is enough for tonight, missed a lot of sleep traveling and socializing at Vegas. I’ll write more tomorrow night on the conference.

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