Silicosis is making headlines recently as the next big crisis following asbestosis. The epidemic has arisen from the fabrication of stone products. As a result it has gained attention on mainstream media sparking conversation and action. Let’s look at what it is, how it may affect the industry and what to do about it.
What is Silicosis?
Silicosis is a lung disease which occurs as a result of inhaling silica particles. Silica is a mineral found in stones and sand. Personnel such as glaziers, stone masons and sandblasters are exposed to silica. Over time this can result in scarring of the lungs and cause breathing difficulties.
Silicosis is recognised in three forms, ‘acute’, ‘chronic’ and ‘accelerated’. Acute silicosis is that which occurs in a short time period, weeks to a few years. Chronic silicosis is a result of long-term exposure such as a few decades. Accelerated silicosis is the result of moderate term high level exposure such as 10 years.
As scarring occurs in the lungs, sufferers may experience coughing, weight loss, chest pains and breathing difficulties. Tragically, this disease can lead to death.
How can I contribute to the prevention of Silicosis?
Unfortunately, the stone industry is not so black and white. Many reputable manufacturers are taking action to minimize silica content and exposure. On the other hand, many entry-level product manufacturers prioritize material cost as opposed to content. And so, this can mean that silica is present in abundance.
By sticking to reputable brands such as Caesarstone and Silestone, you can assure you are supporting manufacturers who are acting. These companies are actively working to reduce silica content. They also provide detailed composition information with their products. The same cannot be said for all manufacturers. You can also look to stone alternatives such as laminates, acrylics and porcelain. It may be smart to avoid cheap stones, especially those imported from countries like China.
What does this mean for the stone industry?
Naturally, the recognition of industrial silicosis will impact the industry in both negative and positive ways. We see manufacturers and fabricators working toward safer products and practices. Government and Health organizations push for stricter regulations. As a result, we will see a reduction in the presence of silicosis. Consequently, it may increase the costs involved in producing stone products. This may result in stone being less desirable to consumers which could adversely affect the industry through loss of sales and therefore, jobs.
Another consequence would be the increase in use of stone alternatives. Laminates, acrylics and porcelain can be used in place of stone.
Q. Can stone products containing silica installed in my home cause harm to my family?
A. No. The exposure to silica experienced by fabricators is due to the inhalation of dust particles. These particles are airborne as a result of cutting the stone. The regular use of stone products such as benchtops, will not result in airborne silica particles.
Q. Can the risk of inhaling silica when fabricating stone products be minimized?
A. Yes. Fabricators can minimize their risk by being selective in the products they use, keeping the stone wet to prevent dust becoming airborne, ensuring adequate dust extraction is in place and using appropriate PPE.
Q. Is anything being done to combat silicosis in Australia?
A. Yes. There are class action lawsuits. QLD has banned the dry cutting of stone and there is demand for the rest of Australia to follow. Many manufacturers of stone products are also working to reduce the silica content of their products.
Q. Can silicosis lead to other diseases?
A. Yes. Lung cancer, kidney failure and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease have all been found to occur as a potential result of silicosis.
Further reading and sources.