Silica Dust Exposure & the Threat of Silicosis in Quartz Countertop Workers

Quartz countertop worker cutting stone

Crystalline silica is a mineral found in stone, sand, concrete, and other materials. The most common form of crystalline silica is quartz, but when quartz is cut or processed, toxic silica dust may be inhaled and cause serious illnesses like silicosis and lung cancer.

The dangers of silica dust were first brought to light in the 1930s, when over 30% of 2,500 workers in West Virginia died from silicosis after constructing a utility tunnel. This devastating event prompted calls for better worker protections, which led to a decline in silicosis-related deaths over the decades.

Unfortunately, the number of people battling silicosis around the world has nearly doubled in recent years, with one group facing a severe risk — quartz countertop workers.

These workers are responsible for cutting and grinding quartz countertops, and they’re regularly exposed to substantial amounts of silica dust. To make matters worse, some workplaces do not follow safety regulations and fail to protect workers from the dangers of silica exposure.

The increase in silicosis cases among workers has left many across the country unable to work and burdened by medical bills. If you have been affected by this disease, even if you are not an American citizen, we may be able to help you seek compensation from a silicosis lawsuit.

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The Human Impact: Young Workers Devastated By Silicosis

Around the world, more than 2.6 million people have been diagnosed with silicosis. California in particular has seen a sharp increase in severe silicosis cases.

Of the hundreds of quartz countertop workers estimated to develop silicosis in California, nearly 20% may die, according to California’s Department of Industrial Relations. Many of those who are facing the devastating effects of this disease are young immigrant workers.

In a recent study of 52 silicosis patients, 51 were Latino immigrants, and the median age of the 10 participants who passed away from this disease was only 46 years old.

One California worker installed countertops for a decade before he developed a persistent cough and had trouble catching his breath. After he was hospitalized due to a collapsed lung, he was diagnosed with silicosis. It was the first time he had ever heard about the disease.

Now, at 27 years old, he relies on an oxygen tank and struggles to play with his two young children. “The only thing they can do is a lung transplant,” he shared, but “there aren’t enough lungs for us.”

This is just one of the many lives forever changed by toxic silica dust, a consequence of companies failing to prioritize the safety of their workers.

Experts warn that California isn’t the only state facing a silicosis emergency. Colorado, Florida, Texas, and Washington are also seeing “outbreaks” of silicosis among younger countertop workers, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

These reports, however, may not capture the full extent of silicosis dangers across the country. Workers without access to health care and routine medical screenings, especially immigrants, may suffer in silence if their conditions go unnoticed and untreated.

If you or someone you love has silicosis, Sokolove Law may be able to fight for justice on your behalf — even if you aren’t an American citizen. Contact us at (800) 995-1212 now to get started.

Understanding the Risks: What Is Silicosis?

Silicosis is a life-threatening disease caused by inhaling silica dust that is released into the air while working on quartz countertops or other products containing silica. As workers breathe in silica dust, the tiny particles settle within the lungs and can cause irreversible damage.

Common symptoms of silicosis include:

  • Chest pain
  • Fatigue
  • Persistent cough
  • Shortness of breath
  • Weakness

Even minimal exposure to silica dust can lead to the development of silicosis, sometimes decades after the exposure. However, workers exposed to large amounts of silica dust daily could develop silicosis sooner.

Where Is Silica Dust Found?

Small amounts of silica can be found in many naturally occurring stones, but the mineral has been overwhelmingly used to engineer inexpensive quartz countertops by binding silica particles with resin.

Each quartz countertop slab contains 93% silica on average. It is not considered dangerous unless ground into microscopic particles that may form a cloud of silica dust.

Quartz countertop workers must cut, sand, polish, and install these countertops, which release silica dust into the air. Since these particles are so small, it is difficult to avoid inhaling them — especially when protective equipment, like masks and respirators, is not provided.

These countertops have surged in popularity as an affordable option for home renovations, with manufacturers like Caesarstone and Cosentino Group producing more than 215 million square feet of engineered stone slabs each year.

However, as demand for these countertops continues to rise, so does the threat of silicosis for quartz countertop fabricators.

Advocates Push for Industry Change to Protect Workers

Several agencies have recommended safety measures to reduce the risk of silica dust exposure, like using wet saws to keep dust out of the air, improving ventilation in shops, and providing respirators to workers.

Despite these recommendations, many manufacturers and employers may not be following safety guidelines.

In California, 72% of quartz countertop fabrication shops were not compliant with silica protocols in 2019 and 2020, potentially putting hundreds of workers at risk of developing silicosis.

Even if safety protocols are observed, current workplace protections may fall short. In fact, nearly half of silicosis patients used wet saws at work to reduce their exposure to silica dust, according to a JAMA study.

As a result, public health experts are sounding the alarm and urging regulators to take swift action before quartz countertop silicosis further impacts the lives of more innocent workers.

Nearly 1 in 5 quartz countertop workers in Australia develop silicosis, which has prompted Australian officials to consider a sweeping ban on engineered stone.

In response to the rise in silicosis cases across California, the state’s Occupational Safety & Health Standards Board agreed to prioritize new regulations for silica workers. However, the agency’s proposed “emergency” protocols would not be available for 3-4 months, leaving current employees to continue working in dangerous conditions.

Sokolove Law Can Help You Pursue Silicosis Compensation

Silicosis compensation can help families affected by this devastating disease pay for necessary medical care and other expenses.

For decades, Sokolove Law has been a dedicated advocate for those injured by exposure to toxic substances like silica dust and asbestos. We firmly believe everyone should have equal access to the justice system.

If you’ve been diagnosed with silicosis, we may be able to help you and your loved ones pursue financial compensation, even if you are not an American citizen.

Let us fight for the compensation you deserve. Get started by calling (800) 995-1212 now for a free, no-obligation case review.

Sokolove Law Team

Contributing Authors

The Sokolove Law Content Team is made up of writers, editors, and journalists. We work with case managers and attorneys to keep site information up to date and accurate. Our site has a wealth of resources available for victims of wrongdoing and their families.

Last modified: November 21, 2023

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  2. California Department of Industrial Relations. “Evaluation of Petition No. 597 to Amend Title 8 Section 5204 to Prevent Silicosis in the Engineered Stone Countertop Industry.” Retrieved from: Accessed on November 21, 2023.
  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Severe Silicosis in Engineered Stone Fabrication Workers — California, Colorado, Texas, and Washington, 2017–2019.” Retrieved from: Accessed November 21, 2023.
  4. JAMA Internal Medicine. “Silicosis Among Immigrant Engineered Stone (Quartz) Countertop Fabrication Workers in California.” Retrieved from: Accessed on November 21, 2023.
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  7. NPR. “Young men making quartz countertops are facing lung damage. One state is taking action.” Retrieved from: Accessed on November 21, 2023.
  8. Occupational Safety and Health Administration. “Worker Exposure to Silica during Countertop
    Manufacturing, Finishing and Installation.” Retrieved from: Accessed on November 21, 2023.