Soapstone counters a talc-cancer hazard?

colickyboyMay 13, 2010

We've been looking into soapstone counters the past couple weeks but a thought came to mind that is making us wonder: since soapstone is commonly a high-talc stone, and since talc causes cancer (see, then is there a danger in having soapstone countertops?

Here is a link that might be useful: CDC occupational health guideline for soapstone

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colickyboy, the publication you attached discusses the known hazards associated with the mining of and manufacture of articles from soapstone. i.e. dust and particulate material. It does not suggest that the use of soapstone products is hazardous.

    Bookmark   May 13, 2010 at 2:27AM
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Breathing is hazardous to your health.

    Bookmark   May 13, 2010 at 10:07AM
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cross_stitch - yes, I realize that but was uncertain whether the countertops also are a concern or not. baby powder, for example, is strongly discouraged. granted, countertops aren't powderous like baby powder, but then again, it wasn't like parents with diapered babies were breathing baby powder 24/7 either yet people were recommended against using baby powder anyway.

weedmeister - since you have nothing to contribute, don't post.

    Bookmark   May 13, 2010 at 3:45PM
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The significant phrases in this to me were:

In an epidemiological study of 260 workers with 15 or more years of exposure to industrial talc dust (I'm paraphrasing)

Common operations and controls:
mining, quarrying, blasting, manufacturing

These phrases tell me that this bulletin is intended to inform people how to protect people in the workplace against levels of exposure doing the kinds of things described above -- day in, day out, very high levels of workplace exposure over many years.

The kind your installer might see. But not a homeowner.

Perhaps even homeowner might get the specified level of dust the day it's installed. But I seriously doubt a single day's exposure will give you problems. If you are concerned, ask your installer how he minimizes dust on the job. I'm sure he'll be happy to discuss it with you. Then clean up any remaining dust.

I am familiar with reading this kind of information, through the Materials Safety Data Sheets -- MSDS. It is important safety information, but it should be taken in the right context.

And for a homeowner, your daily exposure is to a solid piece of soapstone. Not dust. You're good.

If anything, it might be argued that by getting soapstone, you're reducing your need for toxic sealers and cleaners over the long term.

It all depends on what your comfortable with.

Good luck with your decision.

    Bookmark   May 13, 2010 at 4:29PM
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This is CRAZY that you posted this - I literally became concerned about this 10 minutes ago~ I am considering soapstone, which contains talc - and I was also looking at getting checked for mercury poisoning (various reasons) when I read that one thing the average person is exposed to that contains mercury is TALC!!!! Which made me start to think about that! I would say it probably isn't an issue but then again, who knows. Granite supposedly emits radiation. SO how can you win? Plastics contain chemicals to make us sick too. I am with the previous poster - breathing is dangerous :P.

But HOW FUNNY you asked this SAME THING!!! Bizarre.

    Bookmark   May 13, 2010 at 4:43PM
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You won't be grinding down your soapstone, or any countertop for that matter, so you shouldn't have issues with dust.

But to expound on Weedmeister's point, what else are you going to do?

Buy granite and get exposed to radon?
Buy Formica and get exposed to the hazardous chemicals in making it?
Buy wood and get exposed to the cancerous finish?

If you want to avoid cancer, then stainless steel might be your best bet. So then you save yourself the soapstone risk, but everything around you is 1,000 times riskier!

So throw away any piece of furniture like a couch or matress because it exposes you to cancerous flame retardant.

Throw out any wood furniture because it exposes you to cancerous VOCs.

Throw out all cosmetic items because they expose you to cancerous parabens.

Grow and make every bit of your own food because anything you buy from the store exposes you to cancerous antibiotics and pesticides and preservatives and dyes and man-made materials that are not food.

Move to an area where there is no civilization for 100 miles in any direction because if you breath air near civilization, you are ingesting cancerous smog.

The point is, if you want to avoid cancerous materials in your kitchen, then the only way to do that is to not have a kitchen or make the whole thing of wood from trees you milled yourself and do not seal any of it! Do not use paint, any sort of finishes, or any stone from the earth. While you are at it, you better research the amount of radon in the ground your kitchen is sitting on because many parts of the country are very high.

The point is simply living exposes you to cancer and you can mitigate the risks to a point, but soapstone seems like a very benign risk compared to the unavoidable risks taken on a daily basis, especially when it's only the dust that is worrisome.

    Bookmark   May 13, 2010 at 4:44PM
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Breathing airborne sawdust is hazardous to your health too. Do you think you shouldn't build a house from wood? As far as I can tell....the logic would be the same.

    Bookmark   May 13, 2010 at 8:30PM
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Everything can hurt you. Breathe the air? That's a cancer. Step in yucky water in bare feet? You're gonna get the ringworm. Drink the water? Yep, your best bud Mort is gonna get pregnant.

/sorry, I couldn't help myself. Please do not worry about dust from SS counters. It's like worrying about radon emissions from granite counters.

    Bookmark   May 13, 2010 at 8:32PM
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This post either cracks me up or pisses me off.

Hey, since one thing is bad for you then certainly everything is bad for you! Helmets and seatbelts, why bother? Early detection for cancers? Nah, your going to die anyway.

Why not substitute bleach for water in your glass and glass for your crackers? After all, every negative in the world is equal so there's no point in making informed choices.


Colickyboy, Growlery is dead on. Ditto all over the place. I myself chose soapstone because I believe it to be in the top three of "safe" countertops and I look for the best possible answer to that question in a place I'm going to spend such a large amount of time.

I really applaud your looking into your health and your familys health in an active way. It can be so much easier to do nothing than to ask controversial questions.

Good luck with your choice!

    Bookmark   May 13, 2010 at 10:04PM
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Yes, actually, parents and babies did breath baby powder whenever it was used. Did you never notice the smell? If you can smell it,, you're breathing it. If you don't plan on sanding your counters, there will be no risk associated with the talc content of soapstone.

    Bookmark   May 13, 2010 at 10:34PM
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Geez people - I don't think that was a controversial question. Odd. I agree that there are a lot of hazards but I can see why you might worry about touching something every day that might drive you insane (clinically). But then I am a crazy person already because I stopped drinking out of plastic and microwaving it a long time ago. I also buy all organic and don't eat out of cans, cook in aluminum or do a ton of other things. I know you can't avoid the hazards but thinking about reducing exposure where you can isn't so bad. The reality is we are all being soaked in radiation from the sun anyhow right now so who cares LOL.

But don't pick on someone because they are ACTUALLY THINKING TO ASK A QUESTION! I say Bravo for THINKING! The world needs more people like that because if we had them maybe we wouldn't have poisoned our environment and bodies so badly to the point of no return.

How is that for controversy ;)

and PS - if you sand out the scratches in your countertop be sure to wear a mask - or not?

Morgne - just laugh. All other responses are pointless. I save my anger for dumb drivers LOL :)

    Bookmark   May 13, 2010 at 10:35PM
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I am sorry if it came across as picking on a person. I applaud people who take health risks seriously.

We ourselves don't use any plastics in our home, we try to buy organic, we try not eat foods that are engineered by man, we even had our granite tested for radon, etc. (BTW, our granite passed and I am glad we tested.)

But when I was buying my granite and stressing about radon, I was a bit envious of the people getting Formica or soapstone as they didn't have to worry about cancer causing agents IMO. I didn't know talc was related to cancer till this thread - by why am I not suprised!

I guess to me, worrying about soapstone dust and cancer is a little like worrying about the sliver in your gangrenous leg though because seriously, how likely is it that the average home owner will be creating dust out of their countertop? Talc isn't like radon that emits dangerous rays. I just see virtually everything else in the home as such a greater risk.

    Bookmark   May 13, 2010 at 10:55PM
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morgne, if you were referring to my post I just want to point out that what I typed was with tongue planted firmly in cheek. Heck, I don't even know any men named Mort, especially pregnant ones :D

colickyboy, I hope that you reconsider soapstone. The link that you posted was intended for those working with the stone, not for homeowners. Soapstone is not only beautiful, but practical in that it won't etch or stain when exposed to acids from food, or wine, or etc. and can last forever. I'm actually (finally) going to check out some large slabs next weekend. Very excited!

Please excuse my smarty-smarminess. Good luck!

    Bookmark   May 14, 2010 at 12:05PM
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Sometimes I marvel at the helpfulness of many on GW; sometimes I marvel at the snideness of some on GW.

For the record, I was never seriously concerned about a cancer danger from soapstone countertops; I was actually asking on behalf of my wife, who asks me a lot of questions. So I was being devil's advocate for her on this thread. My wife is pretty health-conscious; like some of you, she bans aluminum cookware, doesn't microwave in plastic containers, etc... plus she's switching to grass-fed beef instead of corn-fed beef, and not eating "bottom-feeders" like pork and shrimp. Soapstone talc was something that made her go 'hmm'.

But to get some of the rude responses here was an eye-opener. "Breathing is hazardous to your health." Well, if you really believed that AND you care about your health, then why don't you stop breathing? "Breathing airborne sawdust is hazardous to your health. Do you think you shouldn't build a house from wood? As far as I can tell...the logic is the same." Responsible builders wear masks, so, no, the logic is not the same. Several other posters compared my question to exaggerated-neurotic fears of painted or stained furniture or stepping barefoot in dirty rainwater. Hey, if you don't think soapstone talc is a hazard, fine...just say so respectfully. No need to insult me as illogical. I'm not even the one who thought it was a hazard in the first place.

Once before on GW, I asked whether it was unusual for a cabinet company to demand full payment 2 weeks before I got my cabinets. The reason I asked was that if something was amiss, I have little leverage since the company is paid in full already. Yet I got a rude response to the effect of 'how dare I's standard in the industry...they're building me custom cabinets so i should be cheerfully giving them all my money early'.

Thankfully, for every snide poster, I'm renewed in my faith in GWers by posters like colorfulaura and growlery, who answer with professionalism and courtesy. I've learned so much here on GW...things that I thought were "obvious" until I found this forum. The reason this forum exists is for people to ask questions, even so-called "stupid" ones, b/c you never know what you'll learn.

Back on-topic, I told my wife before I posted the question here that I was pretty sure it wasn't an issue. Of course I already know talc isn't like radon emitting dangerous rays, and I know I'm not grinding my soapstone. But one of my wife's questions was about touching countertops often (esp since people keep saying how they love to touch their soapstone) and getting talc on your hands. I told her I didn't think there would be a lot of loose talc on the stone after it's oiled, and certainly not enough to pose a health hazard. But my wife (rightfully) doesn't think I'm an authority on the subject, so I offered to ask for her on this forum since there are people much more familiar with soapstone than we were. After reading the responses here, my belief appears validated and I think my wife understands better now. So thanks to those who were helpful AND courteous.

    Bookmark   May 14, 2010 at 12:32PM
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As I have said on this forum many times, I believe in science and the scientific method.

The site names a particular standard that OSHA sets as the permissable exposure limit: 20 million particles per cubic foot of air over an 8 hour work shift. It is extremely unlikely you would get this spot sanding a tiny scratch. A mask and quick cleanup would reduce your exposure further.

Also, on a BRIEF reading of trusted sources on cancer (like the National Cancer Association's Web site) it appears that, in general, the links between INHALED talcum powder in the home and cancer have not been conclusive.

Studies appear to indicate a slight increase in ovarian cancer with women who reported using applied talcum powder, but exactly how that mechanism works is still being researched, according to my reading.

If you are concerned about the health affects of any of these materials, of course, the BEST place to get it is from your health care provider, and your local health department, not the Internet! They can help you put everything in perspective, and help you apply it to your own, individual situation.

The facts remain that the leading contributing causes of death are very sadly mundane: maintain a healthy weight, exercise, wear a seatbelt, chew your food before swallowing, don't smoke, get guns out of the home. Stay out of the sun.

But living life thoughtfully is good. Everyone should be encouraged to think more, not less.

Good luck with your choice!

    Bookmark   May 14, 2010 at 12:40PM
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"or stepping barefoot in dirty rainwater."

And again, my post was meant to be taken with a grain of salt and to get you to laugh, I was not laughing at you or wishing you any illwill. Please consider my apology and don't take anything I say that seriously (unless it's about animals, cleaning products, me dying to build a new kitchen or the fact that I know no pregnant men named Mort). Again, good luck in your countertop search.

    Bookmark   May 14, 2010 at 1:44PM
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I read this post because I read everything that I can about soapstone. But, when I read it, I thought, "wow, this person is really a worrier." The possible danger of talc may be from breathing significant quantities of the dust, but certainly not from touching it, or setting your eating utensils on it.

colickyboy, the comments that you saw as "rude", I thought were an attempt, by some, to inject some humor and to lighten things up. In today's world, we do hear of almost everything having a negative effect on us in some way. Warning labels seem to be everywhere. With all due respects, I thought that you were the one being rude with your comments to weedmeister and others. There did not seem to be a need to take offense.
Best regards.

    Bookmark   May 14, 2010 at 2:11PM
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One of the reasons that there are sometimes snide remarks is because we occasionally get trolls who deliberately post bad, often untrue, things about competitive products. Solid surface salespeople are notorious for posting bad things about natural stone, for example. I think some of us get our backs up when we see things that could be posted by such trolls, even if they aren't.

    Bookmark   May 14, 2010 at 2:45PM
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hsw_sc : I'm sorry colickyboy is so afflicted but I got a huge laugh out of your post.

Growlery wrote:
If you are concerned about the health affects of any of these materials, of course, the BEST place to get it is from your health care provider, and your local health department, not the Internet! They can help you put everything in perspective, and help you apply it to your own, individual situation.

Seriously Amen to that. I had written a longer and much less diplomatic post trying to say just that but then deleted it in that it may just make that colic worse. Growlery is spot on. If you want more than just using common-sense gets you, don't turn to an open forum of kitchen dilettantes of unknown antecedents to assuage any serious fears on a technical subject!
For all you know, we're all a mess of disgruntled soapstone-talc-imbibing cancer victims typing away with the last half of a working lung determined to trap an unsuspecting remodler into the same fate we find ourselves in.


    Bookmark   May 14, 2010 at 3:31PM
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One thing with us soapstoners is that we are a passionate group of people. There has been and still seems to be a lot of misinformation about the product we love. The concern mentioned above is a legitimate concern if you are a fabricator. With every natural product be it wood or stone, the proper eye, ear, and lung protection is vital if you want to limit your risks for later health. Talc is a wonderful product, but breathing it in everyday is not good. Having soapstone counters does not mean you will be breathing in talc on a daily basis. Having wood furniture does not mean you will be breathing in saw dust every day, etc. . . It is why we fabricators (many of us) try to fabricate wet whenever we can. This cuts down on the particles in the air. . .

Concerns like this are healthy to talk about. The weakness in a product will come out. For soapstone the weakness seems only to be the color variation . . .lol You may or may not like soapstone, but one thing is for sure, the talc in the stone makes it what it is. If it were harder, or a different color, or something else, it would be exactly that . . . something else. Soapstone is what it is and will always act and look like nothing else on the market. For those of you who live with soapstone, you know.

    Bookmark   May 14, 2010 at 3:38PM
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Excellent point from Joshua, a soapstone professional, about wet fabrication.

I have no dog in this fight, other than my belief that information doesn't hurt people, propaganda and fear do. Even propaganda from well-intentioned people.

    Bookmark   May 14, 2010 at 5:06PM
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I am saving for soapstone-well, actually, I need to save for the cabinets because I don't want to get the counter until the cabinets are replaced, but then the floor needs to be done first....

Anyway, soapstone is wonderful, IMHO. I can't think of a negative. As far as health risks: just consider all the science labs that have used it for generation upon generation of students and scientists without an unusual number of cancer cases among them. In this case, the material has been used regularly for more than a century, so I would not worry.

    Bookmark   May 14, 2010 at 7:08PM
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The state of entropy is the only safe state to live in, because nothing happens, and nothing will happen. And you can't live there, because the entropy itself would kill you.
And if nothing bad can happen, then surely nothing good can happen either.
So we live in an entropy-reduced state, where things can and do happen, the good alongside the bad. We "pays out money and takes our chance". Be mindful and make educated choices.
Soapstone is very dusty if you sand it dry, without water as the lubricant/dust keeper-downer. So use a little water when you sand out the dings.
And remember to breathe. In and out works best for me, but YMMV.

    Bookmark   May 14, 2010 at 7:52PM
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An old lab table as mentioned above. Someone in the lab years ago decided to paint the table top black. . .then years pass with all the chemicals eating away the finish. . . then I bought the top and refinished the one half. . . . back to the way it should be. . . lol

I did oil the right half. . .it would look grey like the parts on the left that are showing the natural grey color.

    Bookmark   May 14, 2010 at 8:55PM
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Joshua, your trailer appears to be sitting in a carcinogenic talc-slurry. Call the EPA! OMFG! Do they even call out the EPA for talc spills? Have they raided known barber shops to declare them superfund sites? I mean with talcum powder exposures going back decades, each one must be a miniature Chernobyl!

    Bookmark   May 14, 2010 at 10:01PM
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Mindstorm, I am ROFL from your last post. Soapstone-talc-imbibing cancer victims!!!

I had to read your post about 4 times because your crafting of words was so delicious I could almost taste them.

    Bookmark   May 14, 2010 at 10:17PM
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Nice! Love it! You guys crack me up.

    Bookmark   May 15, 2010 at 12:12AM
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For all the thoughtful and whimsical discussion, we've skipped over the all-important matter of degree. Yes, talc, radon, sawdust et al can be hazardous to your health, but the important question is how hazardous?

It reminds me of the olden days when fussbudgets warned that LSD destroyed chromosomes. Sounds scary, eh?

News flash: so does taking aspirin. Or getting sunburned. Or taking a hot bath.

The important question is how likely is the exposure in question to affect your health.

    Bookmark   November 4, 2013 at 4:12PM
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