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Understanding Silica Dust and Silicosis

If you’re in the market for countertop materials, you may hear people talking about the serious problems of silica dust and silicosis. Unless you work in the industry, you may not be familiar with these terms or why they should matter to you, but there are a few important things you should know.

What is silica?

Silica is one of the most common minerals on the planet. It can be found in sand and 95 percent of all rocks on Earth, such as granite and marble.

What is silica used for?

Silica is one of the main ingredients used to manufacture everyday building materials like glass, ceramic and porcelain tile, engineered stone, and quartz agglomerates.

Is silica bad for you?

In some forms, the answer is yes.

The biggest danger comes from breathing in the small particles of crystalline silica dust created when stone, ceramic, or engineered stone countertops, bricks, concrete, and other building materials containing silica are cut, ground, sanded, drilled, or crushed.

These particles are much smaller than the natural grains of sand found on a beach, which are too big to be inhaled.

What happens when you breathe in crystalline silica dust?

Because these particles are so small, they can get stuck in lung tissue when you breathe them in. This scars the lungs, causing permanent and serious damage.

What is silicosis?

The chronic disease caused by inhaling crystalline silica dust is called silicosis. Symptoms include shortness of breath, trouble breathing, and fatigue. Some patients also experience other complications such as tuberculosis, lung cancer, COPD, and kidney

Is there a cure for silicosis?

Unfortunately, no. This serious lung disease is incurable and can lead to disability and death.

Who is at risk for silicosis?



Without proper precautions, the people who fabricate, install, and repair these materials are the ones who are exposed to crystalline silica dust and at risk for developing silicosis.

Workers can also be exposed to the dust while dry-brooming areas where the work has been done.

It is important to note that silica- containing materials do not release crystalline silica dust during normal use after installation. However, protective measures should be taken when installed materials are renovated or removed.

How many people have silicosis?

In the U.S. alone, 2.3 million workers are exposed to crystalline silica1. More than 12,900 deaths were attributed to silicosis worldwide in 20192. In response to this crisis, Australia has prohibited the use, supply, and manufacture of all engineered stone beginning July 1, 2024.

How much exposure to crystalline silica dust is dangerous?

No exposure is considered safe because once the crystalline silica dust is inhaled, it cannot be removed from the lungs.

Problems can develop anywhere from 5-20 years after exposure, but they can also occur after only a few months of exposure, and symptoms can continue to get worse3.

How long do people with silicosis live?

Survival times from the year of diagnosis to death range from 6.8 to 21.5 years, depending on the stage of silicosis4.

What should you do if you’ve been exposed to crystalline silica dust or notice symptoms?

Consult a doctor as soon as possible to make the diagnosis.

How can workers protect themselves from silicosis?

In the US, employers are required to
protect workers by following OSHA guidelines on respirable crystalline silica5.

These include providing workers with the proper personal protective equipment (PPE), including full-face respirators, monitoring the air, isolating dust-producing operations, using a combination of water and dust shrouds equipped with LEV and HEPA filters, and following appropriate housekeeping guidelines to limit dust exposure.

What can designers and end users do to prevent silicosis?

The simplest way to prevent workers from being exposed to respirable crystalline silica dust is to choose materials with zero silica, such as Durasein® Solid Surface material.

Most other countertop materials contain some percentage of crystalline silica, including quartz agglomerate and engineered stone at 90% or more, porcelain at 5-25%, natural granite at 20-45%, and natural marble around 2%.

Because Durasein® Solid Surface material has zero added silica, it is not linked to silicosis. However, it can still provide the aesthetics and durability people want, along with fewer risks for workers.

Where can I learn more about silicosis?

For more insight on this condition, watch:

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