Nav: Home

Severe silicosis found among fabricators of engineered quartz stone

September 26, 2019

Engineered stone, made of ground quartz and resin, has become a tremendously popular material for kitchen countertops due to its durability, low maintenance and customizable colors and patterns. Workers who form, shape, cut and polish the material, however, appear to be at significant risk of severe and potentially deadly lung disease. In this week's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, researchers from California, Colorado, Texas and Washington report 18 cases of severe silicosis, and two fatalities, among young, mostly Hispanic men, who worked at engineered stone fabrication plants.

"Engineered stone contains a much higher silica content than does natural stone, posing significant risk to those who handle and work with the material," said Cecile Rose, MD, MPH, professor of medicine at National Jewish Health and co-author of the study. "We believe there may be hundreds, if not thousands of cases of silicosis among workers in the engineered stone industry."

Silicosis is an incurable lung disease caused by inhaling particles of crystalline silica. The particles trigger inflammation and scarring in the lungs, leading to progressive, irreversible and potentially disabling and fatal disease. Silicosis patients are at higher risk for autoimmune diseases and lung infections, especially tuberculosis. Engineered stone has a very high silica content, greater than 90 percent, compared to less than 45 percent in granite.

After sensing a rise in silicosis cases among her patients, Dr. Rose reviewed patient files and discovered seven recent cases of silicosis among engineered stone workers in her Colorado practice alone. Public health officials in California, Washington and Texas identified 11 more cases through various surveillance programs. Two of the California cases were fatalities discovered in follow-up investigations of one fabrication plant. Several of the patients with silicosis also had autoimmune diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis and scleroderma. Two had latent tuberculosis infection.

In 2018, the stone fabrication industry employed an estimated 96,000 employees in 8,700 mostly small fabrication plants in the United States. In Australia, screening of workers in the stone fabrication industry found about 12 percent of the workers had developed silicosis. Comparable rates of silicosis in the U.S. would mean that 11,500 workers in the industry could have silicosis. Small stone fabrication companies face challenges protecting workers due to limited awareness and cost of exposure control technologies.

"We urgently need to identify stone fabrication workers at risk and reduce their exposure to silica dust," said Amy Heinzerling, MD, MPH, co-author of the MMWR report and Epidemic Intelligence Service Officer, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention/California Department of Public Health. "Employers, public health authorities and health care providers must all work together to address this emerging silicosis threat in the stone fabrication industry."
-end-
The National Jewish Health Center of Excellence for Silicosis and Its Prevention offers diagnosis and treatment of silicosis as well as surveillance and exposure reduction consultations for employers in industries with potential silica exposure. For more information call 303.270.2609 or 877.255.5864.

National Jewish Health is the leading respiratory hospital in the nation. Founded 120 years ago as a nonprofit hospital, National Jewish Health today is the only facility in the world dedicated exclusively to groundbreaking medical research and treatment of patients with respiratory, cardiac, immune and related disorders. Patients and families come to National Jewish Health from around the world to receive cutting-edge, comprehensive, coordinated care. To learn more, visit http://www.njhealth.org.

National Jewish Health

Related Public Health Articles:

The Lancet Public Health: Study estimates mental health impact of welfare reform, Universal Credit, in Great Britain
The 2013 Universal Credit welfare reform appears to have led to an increase in the prevalence of psychological distress among unemployed recipients, according to a nationally representative study following more than 52,000 working-age individuals from England, Wales, and Scotland over nine years between 2009-2018, published as part of an issue of The Lancet Public Health journal on income and health.
BU researchers: Pornography is not a 'public health crisis'
Researchers from the Boston University School of Public Health (BUSPH) have written an editorial in the American Journal of Public Health special February issue arguing against the claim that pornography is a public health crisis, and explaining why such a claim actually endangers the health of the public.
The Lancet Public Health: Ageism linked to poorer health in older people in England
Ageism may be linked with poorer health in older people in England, according to an observational study of over 7,500 people aged over 50 published in The Lancet Public Health journal.
Study: Public transportation use linked to better public health
Promoting robust public transportation systems may come with a bonus for public health -- lower obesity rates.
Bloomberg American Health Initiative releases special public health reports supplement
With US life expectancy now on the decline for two consecutive years, the Bloomberg American Health Initiative is releasing a supplement to Public Health Reports, the scholarly journal of the US Surgeon General.
Data does the heavy lifting: Encouraging new public health approaches to promote the health benefits of muscle-strengthening exercise (MSE)
According to a new study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, almost 75 percent of US adults do not comply with public health guidelines recommending two or more muscle-strengthening exercise (MSE) sessions a week, with nearly 60 percent of the population doing no MSE at all.
The Lancet Public Health: Moderate carbohydrate intake may be best for health
Low-carb diets that replace carbohydrates with proteins and fats from plant sources associated with lower risk of mortality compared to those that replace carbohydrates with proteins and fat from animal sources.
Mass. public safety, public health agencies collaborate to address the opioid epidemic
A new study shows that public health and public safety agencies established local, collaborative programs in Massachusetts to connect overdose survivors and their personal networks with addiction treatment, harm reduction, and other community support services following a non-fatal overdose.
Cyber attacks can threaten public health
Gordon and Landman have authored a Perspective piece in the New England Journal of Medicine that addresses the growing threat of attacks on information systems and the potential implications on public health.
Public health guidelines aim to lower health risks of cannabis use
Canada's Lower-Risk Cannabis Use Guidelines, released today with the endorsement of key medical and public health organizations, provide 10 science-based recommendations to enable cannabis users to reduce their health risks.
More Public Health News and Public Health Current Events

Trending Science News

Current Coronavirus (COVID-19) News

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2020.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Uncharted
There's so much we've yet to explore–from outer space to the deep ocean to our own brains. This hour, Manoush goes on a journey through those uncharted places, led by TED Science Curator David Biello.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#556 The Power of Friendship
It's 2020 and times are tough. Maybe some of us are learning about social distancing the hard way. Maybe we just are all a little anxious. No matter what, we could probably use a friend. But what is a friend, exactly? And why do we need them so much? This week host Bethany Brookshire speaks with Lydia Denworth, author of the new book "Friendship: The Evolution, Biology, and Extraordinary Power of Life's Fundamental Bond". This episode is hosted by Bethany Brookshire, science writer from Science News.
Now Playing: Radiolab

Dispatch 1: Numbers
In a recent Radiolab group huddle, with coronavirus unraveling around us, the team found themselves grappling with all the numbers connected to COVID-19. Our new found 6 foot bubbles of personal space. Three percent mortality rate (or 1, or 2, or 4). 7,000 cases (now, much much more). So in the wake of that meeting, we reflect on the onslaught of numbers - what they reveal, and what they hide.  Support Radiolab today at Radiolab.org/donate.