Scientific Reports released a new silicosis study that examines dust emissions from machined engineered stones to understand the hazard for accelerated silicosis. The study was born from the recent upsurge in accelerated silicosis cases among those working in the stonemason industry.
Researchers simulated real-time dust exposure scenarios by dry machining engineered stones in controlled conditions. They then captured and analyzed the respirable dust generated for physical and chemical characteristics. Natural granite and marble were used for comparison.
What Is Engineered Stone?
Engineered stone is a relatively new construction material. It is created with a composite of crushed stone and adhesive (newer versions use cement mix) to create a solid surface. The material is commonly used for the fabrication of kitchen and bathroom countertops, floor and façade tiles. The stone is popular not only because of its aesthetic appeal but also its durability, variability, and affordability. The increased popularity of the new materials is associated with the emergence of accelerated silicosis among those who work in the fabrication industry.
What Is Accelerated Silicosis?
The CDC describes silicosis as “a spectrum of diseases caused by inhalation of free crystalline silica.” It is commonly found in the construction, metallurgy, coal and metal mining and quarrying. And it is caused by inhaling respirable crystalline silica (RCS) in the form of quartz, tridymite, or cristobalite.
What Types of Silicosis Are There?
- Acute silicosis: Also known as silicoproteinosis. This condition is a result of exposure to high concentrations of respirable silica, with symptoms occurring within weeks to a few years of exposure. The diagnosis is based on a history of acute, high-dose silica exposure.
- Accelerated silicosis: Like its acute cousin, it is also associated with exposure to respirable silica but develops within two to five years.
- Chronic simple silicosis: Characterized by small round opacities revealed radiographically.
- Chronic complicated silicosis: Also known as progressive massive fibrosis or PMF. Characterized by nodular lung lesions of one centimeter or greater in diameter, usually in the upper lung zones.
It is the rapidity of accelerated silicosis compared to the other presentations that concerned researchers.
Is Silica Dangerous?
Researchers found that high concentrations of very fine particles with more than 80% respirable crystalline silica content in the form of quartz and cristobalite fill the air as engineered stone is cut. The engineered stone contains 8-20% resin and 1-8% metal elements by weight. Natural stones have far lower respirable crystalline silica (4-30%) and a higher metal content of between 29% and 37%. Natural stone dust emissions also have a smaller surface area than engineered stone as well as lower surface charge.
The study reports there is a large body of research reporting short-term exposure to atmospheric particulate matter of less than 2,500 nm (nanometers) and associated adverse health effects, especially on the respiratory system. Dry-cutting engineered stones generated very fine particles of less than 1,200 nm, which can penetrate deep into lung tissues. It is these very small silica particles that may have greater toxic effects compared to non-silica particles of similar size.
Does Engineered Stone Cause Silicosis?
The study showed that because the dust from machined engineered stones contains a high concentration of very fine particles (mostly quartz and cristobalite), they have the potential for a detrimental impact on respiratory health and pose a unique hazard to engineered stone fabrication work.
How We Help Silicosis Victims
Seek justice with the help of our experienced attorneys. Our Dallas, Texas, law firm represents workers exposed to dangerous silica dust on the job, aggressively fighting to hold these companies responsible for failing to keep workers safe. If you or a loved one has suffered chronic lung diseases like silicosis, we can help.