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What is silicosis? How does Australia’s obsession with shiny stone benchtops contribute to ‘asbestosis in the 2020s’?

Key Point
  • Silicosis is a lung condition likened to asbestosis that is causing concern among Australians.
  • Due to the dangers associated with silicosis, there are growing calls to ban the use of man-made stones found to be lined with silica.
  • Here’s what we currently know about silicosis, its dangers, and whether you’re at risk for the disease.
Incurable lung disease has been linked to the artificial stone used in common kitchen benchtops, raising concerns for the safety of Australian household workers and residents.
The lung disease known as silicosis has prompted state, territory and federal ministers to discuss tougher regulations or a potential ban on kitchen benchtops made of artificial stone.
Concerns mounted following About the risk of silicosis from people working closely on kitchen benchtops.
Minister of Employment and Workplace Relations Tony Burke warned this week that “a coordinated national response is needed” as the danger of silicosis has received increasing attention.
“I have met with injured workers. It is clear that more needs to be done urgently,” he said.

Here’s what you need to know about silicosis and its dangers.

What is silicosis and artificial stone?

Silicosis is a lung disease caused primarily by inhaling silica, a mineral commonly found in certain types of rocks and soils. Silica dust is created by cutting, drilling, grinding, or polishing certain types of stone, rock, sand, and clay.
Over time, inhaling dust causes inflammation, scarring of lung tissue, hardening of the lungs, and difficulty breathing.
Engineered stone is crushed stone combined with resin to create a slab that resembles natural stone such as marble or granite. Man-made stones may contain up to 95% silica.
Dr Simon Bowler, a respiratory physician at Mater Hospital in Brisbane, has previously expressed concern about what many family doctors have already called an epidemic.
“In many ways, [silicosis] It’s like asbestos,” he said.
“It combines with oxygen and water in the lungs to create an acidic environment, causing high levels of inflammation. In the worst cases we’ve seen, lung damage progresses very rapidly within a few years.” There is a possibility.”
If the kitchen benchtop is not touched by the occupants, it cannot breathe dust.

Where dust inhalation becomes dangerous is when cutting stone. Workers must cut stones while wet and wear protective gear to avoid inhaling dust. However, these protections are not always in place.

“Asbestos in the 2020s”

The Construction Forestry Maritime Mining Energy Union has threatened to ban its members from working together by the middle of next year unless all imports and manufacturing are finished.

“Here in Australia, we want to eradicate this product,” union official Zach Smith told reporters in Melbourne on Monday.

Asbestos was banned 70 years after the material’s dangers became known, and Smith dubbed silica dust “the asbestos of the 2020s.”
Industrial hygienist Kate Cole said there was no evidence the material was safe to work with, despite mitigation measures such as masks.
“There is a huge amount of non-compliance issues in the stone sector,” she said.
Dr. Warren Hallex, an industrial and environmental physician, said the surge in silicosis cases over the past decade has called for mandatory air quality monitoring in dusty workplaces.
“Workers’ dust exposures may not become apparent until they retire, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease is a burden on public health care costs,” he said.
The full picture of silicosis in Australia is still unknown, but the numbers are increasing. More than 600 of her people in New South Wales, Queensland and Victoria have been diagnosed with the potentially fatal silicosis.

One of them is Joanna McNeill, a manager and mother of two.

When I went for a regular health checkup before the end of my maternity leave, I was fine, and it was a big shock when I was diagnosed with an intractable disease leading to death.
She worked in a portable quarry office for over four years, inhaling enough silica dust to wreak havoc on her body. Now her life is a constant struggle with pain and illness.
“It’s really hard being a mother of two girls,” McNeil said, wiping away tears.

“I don’t know what my future holds, so I want to be there for them.”

Why are the numbers increasing?

Kitchen benchtops made of artificial stone are particularly dangerous, with about 1 in 4 masons who work with them developing silicosis.
However, that number has only increased recently, and is believed to be largely a result of the housing boom leading to increased demand for artificial stone for kitchen, bathroom and laundry benchtops.
It remains popular because it is cheaper than natural stone and other alternatives such as wood and porcelain, despite an increase in diagnosed cases of silicosis over the past decade.

Exposures from tunneling and road construction may also contribute, with resurgence of cases also occurring in the mining industry.

What are the symptoms to watch out for?

Some symptoms that people should look out for are:

  • difficulty breathing
  • dry or productive (sputum) cough
  • Wheezing
  • tired
  • chest pain
  • weight loss

What regulations are in place to protect workers?

Mason Kyle Goodwin was diagnosed with silicosis at just 33 after years of cutting faux stone benchtops. He’s the face of a new ad by a trade union to step up the ban on artificial stone.
“Unfortunately me and my friend had a diagnosis and we were essentially guinea pigs on this product.

“Don’t let my death or their death be in vain, let’s change it for the better.”

Former mason Kyle Goodwin is the face of the campaign to ban man-made stones linked to silicosis. sauce: AAP / Diego Fedele

Queensland has the strictest regulations for working with artificial stone, prohibiting the dry cutting, grinding or polishing of the product.

Most states also ban dry cutting, but union members are calling for a complete ban on the use of artificial stone.
The Construction Forestry Marine Mining Energy Union has threatened to ban members from working with the union by the middle of next year unless all imports and manufacturing are halted.
Zach Smith, executive director of the Construction Forestry, Marine Mining and Energy Union, told reporters on Monday that he hopes the product will be “eradicated.”

at AAP.

https://www.sbs.com.au/news/article/how-australias-obsession-with-shiny-stone-benchtops-is-contributing-to-the-asbestosis-of-2020/l2hrmzzae What is silicosis? How does Australia’s obsession with shiny stone benchtops contribute to ‘asbestosis in the 2020s’?

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