An ounce of prevention is worth more than a granite countertop

Some granite counter tops may release radon gas.So I was reading this New York Times article on radon off-gassing from granite countertops, and I was intrigued by this passage:

The E.P.A. recommends taking action if radon gas levels in the home exceeds 4 picocuries per liter of air (a measure of radioactive emission); about the same risk for cancer as smoking a half a pack of cigarettes per day.

Now, I'm not a smoker. In fact, I'm asthmatic, and people I love have been killed by smoking-related cancers. There's no doubt about it: I'm biased against cigarette smoking. So maybe it's unrealistic of me to think that if someone I loved was smoking -- even less than half a pack a day -- and all I had to do to get them to stop was take away the cigarettes. . . does this seem obvious to anyone else?

But maybe that confuses the issue. After all, there are complex politics around cigarettes, but I don't think many people would argue over their right to have radioactive granite countertops in their houses, when there are safer options (including safer granite options) available. Which is what Dr. David J. Brenner of the Center for Radiological Research at Columbia University was getting at when he said

“It makes sense. If you can choose another counter that doesn’t elevate your risk, however slightly, why wouldn’t you?”

And you know, I think that's true of most of the toxic exposures we talk about in this neck of the blogosphere. I'm always puzzled by the people who want to wait until there's conclusive evidence of extensive harm to human health before making changes to their lifestyles or the law. By then, the damage is already done. If we can prevent it from happening, shouldn't we?

Need to get your counter tested? For radon testing, the Times recommends contacting the American Association of Radon Scientists and Technologists or ordering a kit from the EPA or your local indoor air environment office.

Photo by dotpolka.

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