A disturbing new report finds 18 workers in the US developed a lung illness—and two of them died—after making kitchen and bathroom countertops from engineered stone. As NPR explains in an extensive article, the artificial stone used for such countertops, which have been increasing in popularity for about a decade, is made primarily of the mineral silica; silica dust can damage lungs and lead to silicosis, a progressive disease with no treatment options other than a lung transplant. Jose Martinez, 37, who for years worked as a polisher and cutter at a countertop company, describes the weakness and dizziness that afflict him: "When I go to sleep, I think about it every night—that if I'm going to die in three or four, five years?" he says. "I have four kids, my wife. To be honest with you, every day I feel worse."
Silicosis has been making headlines overseas too; a recent study found at least 12% of Australian workers who had cut stone countertops had the disease—and there are almost 100,000 workers in that industry in the US. "I am concerned that what we may be seeing here may just be the tip of the iceberg" in terms of cases, a public health expert says. One doctor who says she diagnosed seven cases of silicosis in less than a year and a half says even workers "who were just sweeping up the work site after the stone had been cut" have been affected. Some are calling for the government to do more, with some saying OSHA is not doing enough; others say it's a business' responsibility to make sure silica dust is controlled so that its presence is at a minimum; and a trade organization insists unsafe handling is to blame. Read the full piece at NPR. (Read more lung disease stories.)