When renovating their kitchens, many people like the look and feel of stone for their kitchen countertops. However, when made out of pure stone, kitchen countertops can get expensive, placing this beyond the budget of many. In order to save money and still get the countertops that they want, customers order artificial stone counters. While artificial stone sounds like a win for everybody, the workers who have been tasked with installing these countertops have been taking sick and dying at an alarming rate. Now, the reason for this is just beginning to come into focus. Now, there may be thousands of laborers whose lives may be at risk after working on these artificial stone countertops.
The Centers for Disease Control recently issued a report that detailed these cases of illness. The CDC discussed 18 separate cases of severe lung injuries of the workers who install these artificial stone countertops. These cases were spread across several Western states. Included in these cases were two fatalities of these laborers.
The exact name of this illness is silicosis. This is an incurable lung disease that comes from breathing in particles of artificial stone. When cutting these slabs to the proper size for the counter, dust particles escape into the air and cover many different surfaces in the kitchen. Specifically, the name of the particles that are in the air is respirable crystalline silica.
When breathed into the lungs, this substance can be extremely harmful. Here, the nature of the harm comes from the fact that manufacturers are engineering artificial stone that contains quartz. When the stone is cut, ground or polished, the dust particles are released.
This substance makes the lungs more susceptible to severe illness and disease. The crystalline silica can cause lung infections and even worse possible damage. Beyond lung infections, the crystalline silica can cause lung cancer, emphysema, autoimmune diseases, and kidney disease. When workers contract lung illness from this substance, it is incurable in most cases. This disease is often progressive and will worsen over time. In addition to lung illnesses, several workers exposed to this substance contracted tuberculosis.
Previously, outbreaks of this condition had occurred predominantly in other countries. Until recently, there was only one known case of sickness from artificial stone in the U.S. However, more extensive investigation has revealed more known cases of these injuries, and there is a concern that many more illnesses are developing.
One of the cases involved a 37-year old laborer in California. He worked for years for a countertop company, polishing and cutting the artificial stone. The worker was exposed to large amounts of dust that seemed to fly everywhere when the stone was being cut or polished.
The worker has now been diagnosed with silicosis. He now experiences frequent bouts of dizziness and shortness of breath. He has difficulty being active and can no longer play sports or even engage in physical activity with his children. His disease is progressive and there is almost no way to treat it except for undergoing a lung transplant. Two of his coworkers, who were only in their thirties, died within the past year of silicosis. Several additional workers from this company have since been diagnosed with silicosis.
The fact that several workers from the same company have taken ill is largely an issue of workplace safety. There are public health standards that companies must follow, and there have been numerous violations of these laws in California. Some tests have revealed levels of respirable crystalline silica levels that are up to 22 times higher than the allowed amount of this substance. When illness results from violations of safety standards, the employer can and should be held liable for any injuries suffered by the workers.
The trade association that represents engineered stone manufacturers claims that this product is no more dangerous than any other one. The association claims that unsafe handling may be a cause for the spate of illnesses as opposed to engineered stone being dangerous in itself. In order to protect itself, the trade association has attempted to inform users of the product what it believes the proper way to use it.
However, the rate of silicosis among workers who use engineered stone is alarming. In Australia, the rate of illness is 12 percent of the laborers who work with with this product. This means that the 18 known cases of silicosis in the U.S. may represent only the beginning of this crisis. The concern is that, with over 8,000 stone fabrication business in the U.S., reports of this illness will soon start to become more widespread.
Regardless of the inherent dangers of the product, workers can be better protected if the employer takes steps to control and minimize the dust that the laborers breathe. There is training available to workers on how to cut and polish the stone safely in a way that will keep them from getting sick. Companies should avail themselves of this training in order to protect their workers and avoid being held liable for their employees’ injuries. Consumers can also help contribute to worker safety by only buying countertops from businesses that certify that safety measures are followed.
In the meantime, thousands of workers wait and worry that they will start feeling symptoms of incurable lung disease that can be fatal. The manufacturers of this stone and the companies that employ the laborers can each be held liable in court for worker injuries. Effective legal representation is one way to hold these companies accountable and receive fair compensation for ant injuries suffered. If you or a loved one have suffered from this or something similar, please contact the hazardous chemical attorneys at The Law Offices of Sadaka Associates.