The R-word, again

Is there anything that could get worse for a stone-countertop fabricator, now that the economy is still heading downward and one large multi-state competitor – Rock Tops Inc.closed its doors and left hundreds of people on the hook?

Well, according to the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), it’s time for hats and horns again to celebrate January as National Radon Action Month.

As we all learned in the trade last year, radon’s not anything to get happy about. Nobody denies that it’s a serious health hazard, but the risk of homeowners getting cancer from the presence of granite kitchen countertops was – to put it mildly – played to the hilt with some questionable claims.

The Marble Institute of America got an early jump (Jan. 2) on National Radon Action Month by announcing its Home-Approved Stone testing program. While it’s still in the preliminary stages – details are still being fine-tuned – it’s a good step in providing some kind of standard system to check radon/radiation safety with surfaces.

It’s also something that needs, in the terms of today, full follow-through and transparency. The MIA notes that the science of the process will be peer-reviewed, which is vital. However, the information on all testing needs to be freely available; consumers need to know a stone is tested and safe, but they also need to know when slabs aren’t meeting the standards.

And – even it it’s a rare occasion – what’s going to happen to stone that doesn’t pass the test? Consumers also need to be reassured that a substandard slab that doesn’t get a Home Approved sticker isn’t fobbed off down the line to another use where there’s still a public hazard.

The self-policing by the dimensional-stone industry isn’t likely to make some critics happy. But short of government intervention – something that the EPA and a large number of state heath agencies are loathe to do – industry action is likely to be the main source of consumer protection.

It can’t be a halfway measure, though, and Home Approved Stone will be watched closely in some quarters.

You can count BuildClean™ in that crowd, although – to give credit when it’s due – there’s far less of the one-note granite griping that permeated its early run. National Radon Action Month gets big play right now on the group’s Website, but it’s also tackling other important issues, including safe practices in rebuilding after Hurricanes Katrina and Ike.

One of BuildClean’s major benefactors – Cambria – also continues to promote its “Radon Free” quartz surfaces. But, if you follow this link on the increasing number of Google Ads from the company on how its quartz surfaces “outperform” granite, there’s nary a mention of the R-word.

Emerson Schwartzkopf

You can read up-to-the-minute news on the dimensional-stone trade and search the archives at, where you can also find this blog at the Main Menu under the clever title of “Editor’s Blog.”

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