11/11/10 1:50pm

All it takes is a little subtraction! Say you’ve got 20 picocuries of cancer-friendly alpha radiation per liter in your drinking water. Well, there’s gotta be some margin of error in measuring it, right? Say, 6 picocuries per liter? Then just go ahead and subtract that number out (because you’ve gotta be optimistic about these things, you know, or it’ll kill you). Then . . . voilà! Your level of those nasty little mutation-causing particles is now just 14 picocuries. And phew! what a relief! Because the EPA’s “maximum contaminant level” for alpha radiation happens to be 15 picocuries per liter, and those math wizards at the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality have just saved your community’s water supply from receiving a violation notice! Slight problem: since 2000, the EPA has requested that states not use this little data-jiggering technique. But not to worry: TCEQ’s Linda Goodins, who oversees all drinking-water safety regulation for the state, doesn’t think the EPA’s request was an actual requirement. (Just to placate to those ever-meddling feds though, TCEQ discontinued its subtraction technique last year.)


07/28/08 11:41am

Granite Countertops

Weary of so many drab and formulaic new kitchens boasting granite countertops and stainless-steel appliances? Thanks to a miracle of modern science journalism, design help is on the way. The tyranny of the knee-jerk Kitchen redo formula may soon be over!

The “Your Granite Countertop May Be Radioactive or Emit Radon” meme got a major boost in the media last week, as an article in the New York Times and separate reports from a Rice University nuclear physicist spawned fears among consumers — and dismissive retorts from industry spokespersons.

No need to panic: Your countertop may not be emitting enough radiation to cook the food you put on it. But hey, maybe you should have your surface tested? The idea of bringing a Geiger counter along on your Home Depot shopping trips conjures up so many exciting possibilities!

Whether the latest concerns indicate a pointless consumer scare or an actual health hazard, the writing is on the wall for the granite-countertop trend, which jumped the shark long ago. In Houston — which has no stone naturally, but where builders love to follow design trends long abandoned elsewhere — they were always a strange import. Cliche-weary designers will likely promote radon-and-radiation fears just to get fashion-handicapped clients to try something else. And solid-surface competitors will only be too happy to take advantage of the situation. But if the 2-decades-long granite-surface craze finally ends, how long will their “Looks Just Like Granite” surfaces be attractive to buyers?

Photo: A2D Construction