Quartz Countertops Are Damaging the Lungs of Installers: Study

WEDNESDAY, July 26, 2023 (HealthDay News) -- Workers making the most popular type of countertop sold in the United States are at risk for potentially deadly lung disease, a new study finds.

The risk owes to the tiny particles of dust produced while cutting, shaping and polishing the synthetic quartz.

Inhaling the dust causes the same lung damage, called silicosis, seen for centuries in miners and cutters of natural stone. Engineered stone, however, is more dangerous because of its high concentration of silica, found in sandstone, and the polymer resins and dyes added to the synthetic quartz, according to researchers.

"Increasing case counts of silicosis among stone fabricators over the last 10 years and accelerated progression of disease transforms the paradigm of an all-but-previously-forgotten disease in the U.S.," said lead researcher Dr. Jane Fazio, a pulmonary specialist with UCLA Health in Los Angeles.

The study shows severe illness and premature death among a "particularly vulnerable group of young underinsured and likely undocumented Latino immigrant workers," she said.

The risk was first identified in Israel in 2012. The first U.S. case was identified in Texas, and California is now epicenter of the disease.

For the study, Fazio's team identified 52 engineered-stone workers with silicosis in California, 51 of whom were Hispanic immigrants.

Leobardo Segura-Meza, now 27, has been a stone worker for 10 years. Despite taking health precautions by wearing a mask and using dust-reducing tools, he went to the emergency room with shortness of breath in February 2022 and was diagnosed with silicosis. He has been on an oxygen tank since and can no longer support his wife and three young children, researchers said.

Segura-Meza has been approved for a lung transplant, but fears he will die before that happens. Two other stone workers died while on the waiting list.

"Every day I hope that the phone rings telling me to come to the hospital to get my new lungs," Segura-Meza said in a University of California, San Francisco news release.

"Our paper raises the alarm," researcher Dr. Sheiphali Gandhi, a UCSF pulmonologist, said in the release. "If we don't stop it now, we're going to have hundreds if not thousands of more cases. Even if we stopped it now, we're going to be seeing these cases for the next decade because it takes years to develop."

The findings were published July 24 in JAMA Internal Medicine.

More information

The American Lung Association has more on silicosis.

SOURCE: University of California, San Francisco, news release, July 24, 2023

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