Makers of high-end countertops are dying of an old disease, study finds

Home renovations may be coming at a deadly price as one growing kitchen craze has left a vulnerable population susceptible to a disease associated with coal miners.

Lax compliance with industry standards has been linked to a rising risk for contractors and manufacturers working with artificial stone slabs. As demand for quartz countertops in particular grows, a new study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) Internal Medicine found “black lung” cases have climbed, especially for “Latino immigrants.”

“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,” study co-author Jane Fazio, an Olive View-UCLA Medical Center pulmonary specialist said in a press release.

“Our study demonstrates severe morbidity and mortality among a particularly vulnerable group of young underinsured and likely undocumented Latino immigrant workers,” the doctor continued.

According to the study published online Monday, of 52 patients identified to meet the criteria for inclusion, 51 were said to be “Latino immigrants” with roughly 20 percent lacking insurance and therefore contributing to a lack of early intervention.

Speaking on his own behalf, 27-year-old former countertop maker Leobardo Segura-Meza, a subject of the UC San Francisco and UCLA study conducted in collaboration with the California Department of Health, said: “Every day I hope that the phone rings telling me to come to the hospital to get my new lungs.”

Having spent 10 years as a stone worker, Segura-Meza said he was diagnosed with silicosis after a Feb. 2022 emergency room visit for shortness of breath.

According to American Lung Association, the patient awaiting a lung transplant who had seen two co-workers die on the waiting list, was one of 2.3 million U.S. workers exposed to silica in the workplace. The small particles enter the lungs causing inflammation “which over time leads to the development of scar tissue that makes breathing difficult.”

“Complications from silicosis can include tuberculosis, lung cancer, chronic bronchitis, autoimmune disorders and kidney disease,” the ALA specified, and there remains no cure.

“Our paper raises the alarm. If we don’t stop it now, we’re going to have hundreds if not thousands of more cases,” UCSF pulmonologist and co-author of the study Sheiphali Gandhi said. “Even if we stopped it now, we’re going to be seeing these cases for the next decade because it takes years to develop.”

Due to customizability and durability, quartz countertops have grown increasingly popular with market researchers predicting “by 2030 the quartz Countertops segment will be one of the market’s leading sub-sectors.”

“For instance, studies predict that the market for quartz Countertops will grow to $13 billion by 2027. This reflects how consumers are increasingly favoring Countertops that have both aesthetic appeal for practical advantages,” Vantage Market Research found.

Last month, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors sought a report from the county’s director of public health within 90 days “on the options to ban the sale, fabrication, and installation of silica fabricated stone in the County, including a plan to educate and advise businesses, with options for the use of other construction materials with less health risks to workers.”

Seemingly overlooked by the call for greater regulations was a previously conducted study in 2019 and 2020 in California that found nearly three-quarters of over 800 countertop fabrication sites in the Golden State were “likely out of compliance with the existing silica standard.”

Kevin Haggerty

Comment

We have no tolerance for comments containing violence, racism, profanity, vulgarity, doxing, or discourteous behavior. If a comment is spam, instead of replying to it please click the ∨ icon below and to the right of that comment. Thank you for partnering with us to maintain fruitful conversation.

Latest Articles