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Engineered stone is making California workers sick

Workers who make artificial-stone slabs for countertops are developing a potentially deadly, irreversible lung disease from tiny particles of toxic dust, according to a new study.

The disease, silicosis, has plagued miners and cutters of natural stone for centuries, but the engineered stone is far more dangerous due to its high concentration of silica, a natural product in sandstone.

The study, published in the July 24, 2023, edition of JAMA Internal Medicine, found that 52 California engineered-stone workers had been diagnosed with silicosis, and 10 had died. Most of the workers were Latino immigrants.

The study's authors called for public health officials, clinicians and policymakers to implement measures to better protect workers from exposure to silica dust, more quickly diagnose the disease and even ban the product.

"Our paper raises the alarm," said Sheiphali Gandhi, a UCSF pulmonologist and co-author of the study. "If we don't stop it now, we're going to have hundreds if not thousands of more cases."

The study's findings come as the use of engineered stone countertops has increased in recent years. Engineered stone is made by combining quartz, a type of sand, with resins and dyes. It is often marketed as a more durable and stain-resistant alternative to natural stone.

However, the study found that engineered stone can release high levels of silica dust when it is cut, ground or polished. This dust can be inhaled into the lungs, where it can cause inflammation and scarring. Over time, this scarring can lead to silicosis, a disabling and potentially fatal lung disease.

The study's authors called for better air monitoring and training for workers who use engineered stone. They also called for the development of new regulations to help reduce the risk of silicosis.

"We need to take action now to protect workers from this deadly dust," said Gandhi. "We can't afford to wait."

Journal Information: JAMA Internal Medicine (2023). … ainternmed.2023.3295
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