Workers Are Falling Ill, Even Dying, After Making Kitchen Countertops

Source: Nell Greenfieldboyce, NPR, Morning Edition, October 2, 2019

Artificial stone used to make kitchen and bathroom countertops has been linked to cases of death and irreversible lung injury in workers who cut, grind and polish this increasingly popular material.

The fear is that thousands of workers in the United States who create countertops out of what’s known as “engineered stone” may be inhaling dangerous amounts of lung-damaging silica dust, because engineered stone is mostly made of the mineral silica…… While all this silica isn’t a concern once the countertop is installed in a kitchen or bathroom, it is a potential problem for the businesses that cut slabs of this artificial stone to the right shape for customers…..

….In 2016, OSHA issued new workplace limits on how much silica could be in the air. This controversial new rule reduced the permissible exposure level to half of what it had been. Safety experts hailed the new, tighter limit as an important step forward; the previous regulations had been based on decades-old science, they said. But many industry groups opposed it. A year later, the incoming Trump administration ended the safety agency’s national emphasis program for silica. That program would have allowed OSHA to target the countertop fabrication industry for special inspections, says Michaels. …. Without that program, says Michaels, OSHA is limited in what it can legally do. OSHA can investigate a workplace injury or a complaint. But these workers, some of whom are undocumented immigrants with few employment options, are unlikely to complain…..