Fancy quartz countertops are killing the people who make them, doctors say

Here is a kitchen design trend to die for.

Quartz countertops are now the most popular choice among remodelers and designers due to their durability and resistance to stains, scratches and heat.

But that beauty comes at a deadly price: Workers making quartz countertops are dying of lung disease at a young age, according to medical researchers in a new report.

“Every day I hope the phone rings telling me to come to the hospital to get my new lungs,” said former countertop maker Leobardo Segura-Meza. said in a press release.

Segura-Meza, 27, started working as a stone fabricator in Los Angeles 10 years ago, cutting, grinding and polishing countertops as a teenager.

He regularly wore protective gear like a mask and used dust tools.

But he went to the emergency room with shortness of breath in February 2022, and a lung biopsy revealed he had advanced silicosis.

Although Segura-Meza has been approved for a lung transplant, he fears he will run out of time.

Two of his fellow counter workers died while on the waiting list.

What is silicosis?

Known among coal miners as “black lung”, silicosis is a lung disease caused by inhaling very small particles of silica, according to the Cleveland Clinic.

Symptoms of silicosis include persistent cough, shortness of breath, fatigue, weight loss, and fibrosis (scarring) of the lungs.

About 2.3 million American workers are exposed to silica in the workplace, including 2 million in construction and 300,000 in other industries. according to the American Lung Association.

There are treatments available, but there is no cure for silicosis, and as the disease worsens, it is often fatal.

What are quartz countertops made of?

Countertops known as “quartz” are actually made of a man-made material that includes ground silica (quartz) along with resins, dyes, and glass, according to the study’s authors. published Monday in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine.

In 2021, these types of synthetic stone overtook plastic laminate to become the most widely used countertop material in the United States, marking the first time in decades that laminate was not the most popular countertop material. market studies show.

Some market expert forecasts that demand for quartz countertops will reach $13 billion by 2027, as consumers seek “uniqueness and individuality, leading them to seek countertops that can be customized to meet their unique preferences and requirements.”

And quartz countertops are frequently chosen at popular home improvement shows as the go-to countertop material for trendy kitchen and bathroom designs.

But quartz countertops contain more than triple the silica content of natural materials like granite or marble, and the health impact of quartz countertops became apparent soon after they hit the market.

Silicosis, once a forgotten disease, is back

The first US case of cast stone-related silicosis was identified in Texas in 2015, and since then California has become the epicenter of the disease.

In the United States, an estimated 100,000 stone fabricators are at risk for silicosis associated with exposure to silica.

An Australian government screening program found a silicosis rate of 19.5% among 1,053 workers who were screened for the incurable disease.

In the latest study, researchers from the University of California San Francisco, UCLA and the California Department of Public Health found 52 Californian quartz counter workers with silicosis.

Twenty of them had advanced silicosis and 10 died before the end of the study.

Should quartz countertops be banned?

“Our paper sounds the alarm,” said Dr. Sheipali Gandhi, a UCSF pulmonologist and co-author of the study. “If we don’t stop it now, we’re going to have hundreds, maybe thousands more cases. Even if we stop it now, we’re going to see those cases over the next decade because (silicosis) takes years to develop.

The researchers called on public health officials, doctors and policy makers to implement measures to better protect workers from exposure to silica dust, diagnose cases of the disease more quickly or even ban quartz countertops altogether.

Australia has considered banning the product, but has yet to do so, instead developing regulations to help reduce the risk of silicosis through better air monitoring, training and reporting.

In 2019 and 2020, California safety officials investigated the state’s countertop industry and found that approximately 72% of the 808 manufacturing shops operating in the state were “probably non-compliant with the existing silica standard”, putting hundreds of workers at risk for silicosis, according to NRP.

Last month, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a motion directing the county’s director of public health to report within 90 days “on options for prohibiting the sale, manufacture and installation of silica-made stone in the county.” according to LAist.

Additionally, the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health has begun drafting emergency rules regarding the manufacture and use of engineered quartz products.