Workers Making Engineered Stone Countertops Developing Lung Injuries and Dying Young
By Sandra Dalton, Staff Writer
On September 27, 2019, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published a report stating that 18 U.S. engineered stone fabrication workers had developed severe silicosis and two had died between from 2017 to 2019. Australia began screening workers in the industry in 2018 and found 98 cases. We do not know how many more exist in the U.S. at this time, but there are about 100,000 workers in the booming industry that saw imports increase about 800% from 2010 - 2018. Silicosis is preventable. With the right safety protocols, silica exposure in the workplace can be drastically reduced, but OSHA’s program to enforce silica safety was discontinued when Trump took office.
Artificial Stone and Silica Dust
Artificial stone, also called engineered stone or simply quartz, has become very popular for making countertops for kitchens and bathrooms in the U.S. over the last decade or so. It is made of tiny pieces of quartz embedded in resin and is said to be less likely to stain or crack than natural stone and can be manufactured in a wide variety of colors.
Natural stone contains some silica, but not nearly as much as artificial stone which is about 90% silica. During the cutting and shaping process, massive amounts of silica dust are created. Workers who cut and shape the stone are not the only ones who are exposed. Anyone who works in the area, including those who clean up after workers, is exposed to the dust.
Silica exposure causes lung injuries similar to asbestos. Silicosis has plagued miners for over a century. It is an uncurable lung disease involving scarring of the lungs and it can be fatal. Acute silicosis can appear within weeks of exposure or can take years to develop. Chronic silicosis typically appears 10 to 30 years after exposure, and high-level exposure can cause accelerated silicosis within 10 years of exposure.
Preventable with Workplace Safety Standards
Silicosis is preventable. Safety standards in the workplace can reduce exposure to the dust. There are established methods for controlling dust in stone cutting.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) issued stricter limits on how much silica dust could be in the air in the workplace in 2016, creating a National Emphasis Program targeting occupational exposure to inhalable silica.
Industry groups were opposed to the program that would have allowed OSHA to specifically inspect countertops fabrication facilities, looking for silica violations. The next year, the Trump administration put an end to the program. Without the program, OSHA is limited, and an inspection comes only after a complaint is made or injury occurs.
If your or someone you love has developed silicosis or another lung injury while working in the engineer stone industry, you can learn more about your rights and how you can recover damages for your losses by speaking with a personal injury attorney who handles asbestos and silicosis lawsuits.