Scores of people who work with a product hailed as a cheap alternative to marble and granite could be at risk of developing a debilitating lung disease, Australian respiratory physicians warn.
Overseas outbreaks of silicosis, an untreatable condition that had been on the decline for decades, have been linked to workers who have been exposed to dust from engineered stone, which contains a high content of free crystalline silica.
Doctors say that anyone involved in cutting, shaping or supplying and installing the product is at risk of being exposed to toxic levels of the mineral.
They are now urging doctors in Australia to be aware of the deadly occupational hazard after a case in Sydney was detected earlier this year.
The man in his 50’s was diagnosed with complicated silicosis at Liverpool Hospital following a barrage of tests after initially seeking help for breathlessness.
Writing in a case report published in the MJA , doctors say his condition continues to deteriorate. Despite the use of bronchodilators and inhaled corticosteroids his breathlessness has worsened. He has since gone on to develop pneumothoraces and is now listed for lung transplantation.
Dr Deborah Yates and colleagues, who reported the Australian case, are also urging the Federal Government to enforce work safety practices on sites that use the material arguing that silicosis is an ‘entirely preventable occupational lung disease’.
They say dust suppression practices and the mandated use of protective respiratory equipment should be ‘vigorously’ enforced by Safe Work Australia after the patient who presented with condition reported that he worked in ‘visibly dusty’ conditions and that dust suppression with water was ‘hardly ever’ used.
Meanwhile, regulators in the US and Europe have already issued alerts warning of the dangers associated with artificial stone following an increase in cases reported by workers exposed to the material there.