California embraces emergency rules to protect countertop workers from incurable silicosis

Granite Countertop Workers receiving respirator masks

The deaths of young workers who cut kitchen and bathroom countertops prompted a state board to back emergency safety measures Thursday aimed at preventing silicosis, an incurable lung disease that has risen along with the booming popularity of engineered stone.

The artificial material is made of crushed stone bound together with resin and can have silica levels exceeding 93% — much higher than in marble or granite. Workers who cut and grind engineered stone are at risk of inhaling tiny particles of crystalline silica that scar their lungs, leaving them struggling to breathe.

The recent eruption in silicosis cases has cut down men who have barely reached middle age. Across California, 100 cases have been tallied since 2019 among workers who cut countertops. At least 10 have died, with a median age at death of 46 years. Others are waiting for lung transplants.

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