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‘Emerging Health Concern.' Silicosis, a deadly lung disease linked to engineered countertops  

Silicosis may be unfamiliar to many, but for those who have renovated using artificial stone slabs for countertops, that decision could be contributing to an emerging health risk, experts warned. 

The condition, characterized by irreversible lung damage, primarily affects workers who cut engineered stone, a joint investigation by the NBC4 I-Team and Telemundo 52 Investiga revealed. 

Gustavo Reyes-Gonzalez, who was diagnosed with Silicosis, recalled his symptoms.

“My first sign was a dry cough,” he described.

Reyes-Gonzalez said he was initially diagnosed with pneumonia and later discovered the true cause during multiple hospitalizations amidst the COVID pandemic. 

“It was devastating,” his wife, Wendy Torres, said.  

At only 30, Gustavo needed a lung transplant to survive. 

Silicosis results from exposure to silica dust generated when cutting, sawing or crushing stone countertops, especially engineered stone, which can contain up to 99% silica, health experts said. 

According to the California Department of Public Health, there have been 154 confirmed cases related to engineered stone, including at least 13 deaths, as of June 10, with Los Angeles County reporting 92 cases. 

Silicosis disproportionately affects Latino men, who are more likely to work with synthetic stone in kitchen remodels. 

Dr. Jane Fazio, a pulmonary specialist at Olive View Medical Center UCLA in the San Fernando Valley, conducted a study on silicosis and describes the rise in cases coinciding with the popularity of engineered countertops over the past decade. 

“It’s become an emerging health crisis,” she said. 

The disease disproportionately affects Latino men, who are more likely to work with synthetic stone in kitchen remodels. 

Dr. Fazio warned cases are expected to rise, prompting local authorities to act. 

Los Angeles County Supervisor Lindsay Horvath spearheaded efforts to allocate funds for education and regulatory enforcement to protect workers. 

Today, there are new temporary emergency standards from Cal OSHA that now require water use and certain respirators for employees at countertop cutting businesses in California, though permanent rules are pending. 

Gustavo, now reliant on 15 daily medications post lung transplant, and his wife, Wendy, cherish their time together. 

Gustavo is currently involved in a legal battle against over 40 artificial stone manufacturers, alleging negligence and product liability. In court documents, the companies dispute the claims. 

Source: NBC Los Angeles

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