Silicosis: A Serious Risk when Working with Countertops

August 28, 2023
by We can Help Law

Explore with Our Injury Lawyers the Potential Hazards Associated with Silica Exposure in the Fabrication, Finishing, Manufacturing, and Installation of Countertops in New Jersey

File a Claim for Silicosis in NJ Need Lawyer

In 2022, the countertops market accounted for nearly $130 billion and is expected to reach $187 billion by the end of 2024. Countertops are essential to any kitchen or bathroom, and they reflect a modern design that can tie a room’s decor together. With the continuing growth of the countertop industry has also come an unintended, unwelcome consequence: injuries to workers who have suffered silicosis due to exposure to silica dust in the countertop fabrication and installation process.

Materials Typically Used in Countertop Fabrication in NJ

Quartz countertops are trendy, whether installed in new homes or requested when remodeling kitchens in older homes.  Their sleek, neat design gives homeowners an expensive-looking design instead of marble or granite countertops, which must be resealed annually.  Their resistance to stains, scratches, and heat makes them sought after. Harder than granite, quartz isn’t porous and is better at repelling germs, so it is ideal for bathrooms.  Quartz countertops provide infinite shades and patterns that combine well with any room.

In terms of cost, quartz countertops aren’t the least expensive, but are typically less pricey than marble and granite.  Concrete, soapstone, laminate, stainless steel, and wood are considerably less expensive but have many disadvantages, such as duration, upkeep, and the time it takes to install.

Natural stones include granite, marble, soapstone, slate, and popular countertop materials.  Engineered stone, in the case of quartz, is much harder and brighter than natural surfaces. Concrete, plastic laminate, and ceramic tile can chip or crack when struck with great force.  Wood is popular in farmhouse-style houses, keeping with a rural aesthetic.  As one of the least expensive materials, wood requires constant upkeep and sealing to prevent damage or absorption.

The Risk of Developing Silicosis when Working with Countertops

Silica dust is produced when quartz, stone, and concrete are ground, sanded, or cut.  The dust is 120 times finer than sand and permeates cloth coverings typically used by construction workers, and face masks that do not create a perfect seal on the face can also prove ineffective.  Silica dust can travel to other worksite areas with the slightest wind, thus covering areas not belonging to the main cutting or sanding site. 

Engineered stone counters and tabletops manufactured in massive warehouses and construction sites transform quartz tablets.  Mechanical presses combine polymer resins, dyes, and glass at extremely high temperatures to produce quartz slabs. Quartz creates more than three times the amount of silica compared to stone products.  Manufacturers take the quartz to fabricators who cut and sand the slabs where ventilation and safety measures may need to be improved.

Jobs that work in an environment with silica include mining, quarrying, demolition, building, stonework (usually countertop cutting), ceramics, glassmaking, sandblasting, and foundry. Something as mundane as sweeping silica dust can incite exposure.  When the silica is inhaled, it creates silicosis, a severe lung condition.

Identifying the Symptoms of Silicosis

Silicosis is an invasion of silica in the lungs that damages part of the pulmonary immune system, specifically the alveolar macrophages, which are the core line of defense for the respiratory system. Silicosis is the most common pneumoconiosis, a fibrotic interstitial condition resulting from working with and around silica crystals over many years.  As exposure increases, the disease worsens, manifesting in worsening respiratory issues and possible end-stage lung disease or premature death. The pleural and pericardial forms are the most common, but another form affects the lymph nodes before moving to the lungs.

The symptoms of silicosis are persistent coughing, coughing that produces sputum (mucus), pulmonary inflammation, pneumothorax (collapsed lung), and fibrosis.  The signs of silicosis are dyspnea (shortness of breath), fatigue, weight loss, and muscular weakness.  Silicosis can lead to lung cancer, autoimmune disorders, tuberculosis, emphysema, mycobacterial infection, airway blockage, chronic bronchitis, kidney malfunction, and premature death.     

The Occurrence of Lung Damage Caused by Silica

Lung damage caused by silica happens in five ways:  (1) direct cytotoxicity, which is the direct harm of cells in the lung; (2) generation of reactive species, which causes direct harm to the DNA of the cells by damaging the mitochondria; (3) production of cytokines and chemokines, which are responsible for the activation of immune functions and strength of its response to foreign bodies; (4) fibrosis, simply put, is the growth of tissue in the lungs, making it harder to breathe; and (5) cell death by apoptosis, where dead cells are not replaced with new, healthy cells.

Risk Factors For Silicosis in the Countertop Industry

One of the most significant risk factors is for people who smoke.  Their reaction to the inhaled silica dust is more pronounced, and severe conditions such as emphysema develop much faster than non-smokers.  Those who work with artificial stone are at risk, but those who work with quartz are at much greater risk due to the characteristics of silica dust.  Workers who mine, quarry, cut, and polish artificial quartz stone are 90% more likely to develop a lung-related illness than those who work with natural stones.

Measures to Prevent Silicosis and Reduce the Likelihood of Health Complications

Over 2 million workers annually deal with silica exposure in the workplace, construction sites, and other industries.  The most prominent measure that could be taken is to forbid artificial stone from being used.  It is well-documented that silica dust can produce fatalities at worst and, at best, reliance on oxygen tanks and other treatments for the rest of a patient’s life. While that solution would eradicate the problem, it isn’t likely to take place. 

As an alternative, site workers can use vacuums and saws equipped with an integrated water delivery system that keeps the blade wet and minimizes the amount of silica in the air. Cutting tools with a vacuum attached reduces exposure, but they must use HEPA filters.  Workers should use special masks called respirators, which are essential to filter out silica dust.  Regular paper masks will not work.  Workers should participate in training about protecting themselves and those who work around them.  Avoid eating, drinking, or smoking in areas with silica dust.  Ideally, work clothes should be vacuumed and left in the work area to avoid the transference of dust to vehicles or residential sites.

Are There Any Treatments to Combat Silicosis?

Consequences of Silicosis Due to Countertops Fabrication and Installation in NJ

There isn’t a cure for silicosis. Once the lungs have been damaged, they cannot heal.  Your treatment will be based on the extent of your lung damage and focused on slowing down the disease’s progression.  Avoiding irritants such as more silica or cigarette smoke can help. 

There are three categories of silicosis. Chronic is prolonged exposure to silica dust for over a decade. Accelerated is exposure from 3 to 10 years. Acute is less than 12 months of exposure. It is important to note that less duration of exposure does not necessarily mean the patient has less damage. Everyone reacts differently, and several mitigating factors are at play, such as age, overall health, and whether someone smokes.

A treatment plan for silicosis can include using a bronchodilator to decrease pulmonary inflammation.  Supplemental oxygen may be needed depending on the severity of the illness. Pulmonary rehabilitation helps chronic lung disease sufferers maintain their activity levels and breath strength.

Patients are encouraged to maintain a healthy weight and nutrition and get vaccinated against the flu, COVID, and pneumococcal pneumonia to prevent getting an upper-respiratory illness.

Can a Lawsuit be Filed for Silicosis in New Jersey?

Anyone regularly exposed to silica dust as a part of their job and diagnosed with silicosis, cancer, or other related diseases may have grounds to file a silicosis lawsuit.  Silicosis is preventable when proper safety measures and training are in place.  Companies that don’t implement safety measures or provide personal protective equipment can be held accountable when negligent practices create dangerous environments for workers and individuals alike. Financial compensation can be obtained through a personal injury lawsuit if a person suffers silicosis or other complications due to exposure to silica dust as a result of a countertop manufacturer’s negligence, a stone fabrication company’s unsafe practices, and other scenarios involving companies who fail to prevent hazardous work environments for their employees.

Talk to Our NJ Silicosis Injury Lawyers about Your Potential Claim

If you have been diagnosed with silicosis or another lung disease caused by your work environment in Freehold, Berkeley, Jackson, Long Branch, Asbury Park, Middletown, Point Pleasant, Toms River, Red Bank, Wall, and surrounding communities in New Jersey, our attorneys can provide the help you need to assess your case, file a claim, and fight to ensure that you receive a settlement to pay your bills, cover past and future medical treatments, and ensure that you are justly compensated for your losses. An illness like silicosis can be overwhelming, and you deserve peace of mind.

Our dedicated New Jersey law firm can provide you with compassionate, professional representation.  We are excellent negotiators, zealous litigators, and skilled professionals with extensive knowledge of personal injury law.  Don’t wait another moment.  Call us at (732) 303-7857 or complete our contact form online.