Safety experts are sounding the alarm on countertops made from processed quartz that sometimes can contains silica levels of 90% or more. When cutting the stone slabs, engineers and construction workers can be exposed to high levels of silica particles that are released in the air. Being exposed to such high levels can lead to silicosis, lung cancer, kidney disease, and more.
Risks of silica are under heightened attention following the announcement from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration on a long-awaited update on a rule to reduce silica exposure. OSHA issued a hazard alert following the announcement on the risks posed by countertop manufacturing, finishing, and installation.
The New York Times reports that engineered stone products from outside the U.S. have caused “numerous cases of silicosis” such as in Israel where the Times reports roughly 300 workers were found to have silicosis and 22 patents had to undergo lung transplants. Foreign imports of engineers stone slabs have been coming to the U.S. have grown by nearly 50% between 2013 and 2014 and are popular with designers and consumers as they are "attractive, durable, easy to clean and cheaper than granite counters.”
In the United States, workplace controls are often better than those found abroad. Nonetheless, a 2013 study by researchers at the University of Oklahoma, who surveyed the safety equipment used at countertop fabrication companies in that state, found that most protections were inadequate. Such companies often employ just a handful of people.
It is unclear in how many cases engineered stone has contributed to silicosis in the United States. Two years ago, Texas health officials reported the first documented case in the country of silicosis among countertop workers. The man, Ublester Rodriguez, had spent nearly a decade working with engineered stone countertops and other products containing silica.