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Countertops, Cellphones and Cancer Risk

Lots of alarming news on the cancer front yesterday.

There was this report in the New York Times about granite countertops oozing cancer-causing radon. And this Associated Press story, featured in the Post and elsewhere, about a cancer-center head in Pittsburgh who's cautioned his staff to lay off the cellphones if they want to avoid brain cancer.

How alarmed should we really be?

According to Michael Thun, that question is not easily answered.

Thun, vice president for epidemiology and surveillance research at the American Cancer Society (ACS) -- and a spokesman not inclined to the 30-second sound bite -- explains that "The two stories are very different." As for cellphones, while the actual cancer risk is not well established (Thun says the 17 studies that have examined that risk "do not show a relationship [between cellphone use and brain cancer] except in 2 studies in which the methodology was weak), any potential risk can be easily obliterated simply by using speakerphones or wireless headsets, or simply by holding the phone away from your head.

"The fundamental advice is sound," Thun says. "If people are concerned, they can virtually eliminate risk" by adopting one of those measures.

As for granite countertops, while again the risk is poorly understood, Thun says it may well be "reasonable to regulate countertops so they don't give off a lot of radon," primarily by restricting imports of radon-rich granite for this use. "It's easily remediable -- except for those who have already installed countertops."

Hmmm. Not quite the calming message I'd anticipated.

Thun observes, however, that "There's always far more media attention paid to man-made chemicals and the exotic than to the factors that really cause most disease."

"People regard stories on smoking and obesity and bad diet and not getting appropriate screening as kind of old hat," Thun says. "The reality is that these stories are old hat for a tiny portion of the population and they are very relevant for most people" in terms of personal cancer prevention.

The take-home message? Worry about your cellphone and countertops if you will, but first make sure you've got your other anti-cancer ducks in a row. Here are guidelines from the ACS and the National Cancer Institute for reducing your cancer risk.

UPDATE: Sad news: Randy Pausch, the Carnegie Mellon University professor whose Last Lecture taught us about living life fully even in the face of a terminal illness, died of pancreatic cancer this morning at his home in Virginia. He was 47. Here's the news account of his death.

By Jennifer LaRue Huget  |  July 25, 2008; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  Cancer  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: Oops! Be Gone, Tattoo.
Next: Staying Safe on Two Wheels


Wireless headsets will likely produce just as much EM radiation as the cell phone themselves. People really out to think before talking, especially people who ought to know better.

Posted by: Jonathan | July 25, 2008 9:13 AM | Report abuse

I'd be very upset to read this right after having them installed.

What I don't see is any comment about foods that are prepared on these countertops.
Sometimes the raw food products might touch the counters. Dangerous? Who knows?

Posted by: Dan Dee | July 25, 2008 9:15 AM | Report abuse

"while the actual cancer risk [of cell phones] is not well established"

Not well established? It's been disproven by study after after study. This is like saying that the existence of Santa Claus is not well established.

Posted by: Tom T. | July 25, 2008 10:06 AM | Report abuse

Radon is a gas. The risk is from long-term exposure at high levels (i.e., breathing it in not contact through food or touch). Many basements have been shown to have some Radon, so radon remediation systems are installed.

Posted by: skm | July 25, 2008 1:06 PM | Report abuse

All natural materials, including granite, have potential of releasing radon. As far as granite countertops are concerned, appropriate ventilation should take care of the gas. Solution for pollution is dilution.

Posted by: Dragan | July 25, 2008 3:26 PM | Report abuse

Mr. Adnan & farhan Pl. read it about cell phone merits and demerits carefully.

Posted by: Mr. ADNAN & FARHAN | July 26, 2008 12:59 PM | Report abuse

We understand why homeowners would be alarmed by this story, but the Marble Institute of America would like to assure people that research shows granite countertops pose no threat.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Consumer Reports and repeated independent studies have shown granite countertops pose no health hazard.
-EPA stated Friday: "EPA has no reliable data to conclude that types of granite used in countertops are significantly increasing indoor radon levels." (

-University of Akron researchers found no threat. (

An independent scientific analysis of a variety of studies shows that, accounting for normal airflow in the typical home, radon contributed by granite countertops ranges from 0.01 - 0.02 pCi/L - levels that are 200 to 400 times lower than the EPA guideline of 4 pCi/L.
-By some measures, the amount of radon emitted by a granite countertop is less than one millionth of that already present in household air from other sources. Many granite countertops do not emit radon at all, and those treated with sealant reduce emissions even further.

Silvia Osante
Cohn & Wolfe on behalf of The Marble Institute of America

Posted by: Silvia Osante | July 30, 2008 12:13 PM | Report abuse

p Een plaatje zegt alles, toch ? j Het volledige rapport is hier te vinden. Lees natuurlijk n de blogposting. k c
ламинированный парке 4i

Posted by: ламинат | August 11, 2008 10:38 PM | Report abuse

mxw Een plaatje zegt alles, toch ? apv Het volledige rapport is hier te vinden. Lees natuurlijk k de blogposting. w n
Thanks for interesting post! rgt
паркет 4j

Posted by: ламинат | August 13, 2008 4:21 AM | Report abuse

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