There are few home design amenities valued more by consumers, builders, renovators and decorators than stone countertops. The warmth and beauty imparted from surface coverings using natural stone, such as quartz, granite, and marble, have long been considered a luxury item in new homes and kitchen and bathroom restorations.
But if one is to consider healthy indoor air quality issues, natural stone contains a serious potential health risk: silica exposure.
Crystalline silica is a basic part of the earth’s sand and soil and is found in many minerals, including natural stone materials used in kitchen and bathroom countertops.
Compared to other stone surfaces, quartz is set apart in that it is not wholly organic. Quartz slabs are manufactured using 95 percent crushed quartz stone and five percent compound resins. The synthetic component makes it the easiest stone surface to maintain and increases color variety, durability, and stain resistance.
Unfortunately, quartz countertops have over twice the amount of crystalline silica as granite and nearly ten times the amount of silica found in marble.
Health risks stemming from silica exposure from quartz countertops are nearly non-existent for homeowners. It is the industrial workforce that is vulnerable to health complications. (1) Occupational exposure is highest during the manufacturing and installation processes. Workers who perform stone chipping, cutting, grinding and polishing are in direct contact with silica dust and prolonged inhalation of particles from silica-containing materials can lead to silicosis, a deadly respiratory disease. (2)
According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety & Health (NIOSH), silicosis is an incurable and debilitating lung disease. Although silica dust may seem harmless (in many cases it is undetectable), chronic exposure is unsafe. Consider the three types of silicosis, as described by NIOSH (3):
1. Chronic. The most common form of the disease, chronic silicosis generally develops after 10 or more years of exposure to low levels of crystalline silica.
2. Accelerated. This form of silicosis tends to show up five to 10 years after exposure to higher levels of crystalline silica.
3. Acute. Occurring months or even weeks after exposure to very high levels of crystalline silica, acute silicosis can lead to death in only months.
Doctors familiar with the disease state that as the disease advances, a patient may experience shortness of breath and have clinical signs of poor oxygen/carbon dioxide exchange. In the later stages, a patient may experience weakness, severe shortness of breath, chest pain, and/or respiratory failure. (4) Beyond the primary symptoms, silicosis can reduce a person’s ability to fight infection, as well as pose a risk for other diseases, such as tuberculosis and lung cancer. (5)
But those who work in the stone countertop manufacturing industry need not worry about the potential effects of crystalline silica exposure so long as their employers reduce risk with preventative measures. The CDC recommends, whenever possible, that stone engineering work such as cutting, grinding and shaping be done wet. It is further recommended that air filtration systems should be employed, specifically those that collect silica dust at its source. (2)
At AIRSInc, we serve our customers in the stone countertop manufacturing industry by providing indoor air quality management solutions as well as our stellar air cleaning products. Call us today for a free air quality assessment with one of our skilled and experienced indoor environmental specialists.