A very popular material used in making kitchen and bathroom countertops – artificial stone – is being linked to the deaths of workers who cut, grind or polish it.
And some workers have ended up with irreversible lung injury.
The artificial stone used to create countertops is referred to as ‘engineered stone’ made mostly of mineral silica and this is what workers are inhaling in dangerous amounts which is causing lung damages.
Most of the workers who either cut, grind or polish engineered stone who are suffering from lung damage are in their 30’s and are usually Hispanic. Silicosis lung disease occurs over time when workers continue on a regular basis to inhale the fine silica dust which can be found on the floor, in the air, and everywhere.
Back in 2016, OSHA, the government agency that regulates safety conditions for US workers, issued regulations requiring that levels of silicone dust be cut in half and both OSHA and an industry trade organization, A.St.A. World-wide, have been working to educate fabricators on safe conditions and practices that should be used to protect workers.
In the past, Dr. Cecile Rose, who is a professor of medicine at the National Jewish Health and the University of Colorado only saw patients with silicosis lung disease who were miners. But in one 18 month period at the her occupational health practice clinic, Rose saw seven cases of silicosis in young workers who worked for companies that processed natural or engineered stone. Even natural stone has some silica in it.
There are over 8000 stone fabrication businesses in the US and 18 cases of silicosis lung disease illness, including two deaths have been reported for workers who principally work with engineered stone in the states of California, Colorado, Texas and Washington. Most of the cases are found in Texas.
Some of the safe practices that can be put into place for the protection of workers have been done so by David Scott, the owner and operator of Slabworks of Montana, in Bozeman, who is well aware of the dangers of silica. He has, over the past five years, dramatically reduced silica dust in his shop.
Scott does this by bringing in a floor scrubber first thing in the morning, because even after they have vacuumed and scrubbed at the end of the day, there is still a fine film of dust on the floor the next morning. Scott also uses new air handling systems to remove dust and has at times brought silica levels down to undetectable levels.
If you are planning on purchasing engineered stone for your home and want to make sure you are doing so from a responsible vendor you can vet them by checking if they are accredited by the National Stone Institute.