Samples of Silestone, a counter top product made from quartz. Cutting the product launches hazardous silica dust that can harm individuals’s lungs if the direct exposure to the dust is not correctly managed.

Catie Dull/NPR.

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Catie Dull/NPR.

Samples of Silestone, a counter top product made from quartz. Cutting the product launches hazardous silica dust that can harm individuals’s lungs if the direct exposure to the dust is not correctly managed.

Catie Dull/NPR.

Ublester Rodriguez might not have actually expected that his life would be exceptionally altered by bathroom and kitchen counter tops.

He states that he matured bad, in a little Mexican town, and concerned the United States when he was14 He spoke no English, however he right away got a task.

” In the start I was operating in a Chinese dining establishment, from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. It was throughout the day, so I never ever had time to go to school,” he remembers. “I was a dishwashing machine.”

He labored in dining establishment cooking areas for about 8 years. However he desired Sundays off to go to church and play soccer. So when his brother-in-law provided to assist him get a brand-new task, he leapt at the opportunity.

That’s how he wound up in a workshop that cuts and polishes pieces of a synthetic stone to make bathroom and kitchen counter tops.

” It was something absolutely various for me,” states Rodriguez.

At That Time, in 2000, the product he was cutting was likewise something absolutely various for the American counter top market. The things looked a lot like natural granite. In truth, it was made in a factory, from little bits of quartz bound together by a resin.

This sort of crafted stone, typically marketed as merely “quartz,” is now among the most popular choices for bathroom and kitchen.

Health issues emerge

The difficulty is, employees have actually gotten ill, and even passed away, after cutting this crafted stone and breathing in its hazardous dust, public health authorities state.

Abroad, some are even calling for a restriction on offering crafted quartz for counter tops.

Rodriguez, 42, is the very first individual understood to have actually fallen ill in the U.S. His lungs are so harmed that he is on oxygen about 6 hours a day. Medical professionals anticipate that he will require a lung transplant.

Therefore far, doctors have actually determined a minimum of 18 more counter top employees with silicosis in this nation. They stress that more cases are out there, and more individuals are at danger, considered that the counter top fabrication market in the U.S. has around 100,000 employees.

” In the start I was upset, however I was upset with me,” states Rodriguez, who sued his company for supposedly triggering his health problem.

” When I moved from the dining establishment to this business, I was getting more cash. Since of that modification, I destroyed my life,” he states. “Then I simply recognized that it wasn’t simply me. It was the entire business– that they do not safeguard their workers.”

The store where Rodriguez worked is run by Cosentino, a significant gamer in the counter top market.

” We are exceptionally devoted to security and constantly make every effort to enhance our operations,” a business representative informed NPR. “We hope your post raises awareness in the market to follow an appropriate security culture.”

Silestone pertains to America

Cosentino, headquartered in Spain, began offering crafted quartz in Europe in 1990, under the trademark name Silestone. In 1997, the business formed a subsidiary called Cosentino The United States and Canada, to bring Silestone to a brand-new market.

The very same year that Rodriguez began dealing with Silestone, the product made its launching at a trade convention in Chicago, according to a paper account that explained “flamenco and tap dancers stomping out rhythms on the quartz surface area– which was entirely untouched.”

Silestone’s sturdiness and resistance to spots delighted kitchen area designers. It was included in Time and Great House Cleaning

Business proliferated. As Cosentino executive Brandon Calvo described in an advertising video, “When we were granted the nationwide represent House Depot, I do not believe we understood what we remained in for. I do not believe we understood how huge it was.”

In 2005, Cosentino ran an ad throughout the Super Bowl, including basketball star Dennis Rodman taking in a bubble bath surrounded by restroom counter tops made from Silestone.


Cosentino wasn’t the only business providing the brand-new wonder counter top. Rivals were offering comparable products under such trademark name as Caesarstone, Zodiaq and Cambria. Gradually, increasingly more business began producing pieces of crafted quartz.

Countless employees such as Rodriguez labored in counter top fabrication stores throughout the nation, cutting that basic material into simply the ideal size to suit clients’ cooking areas.

In addition to importing pieces of Silestone from Spain and offering them to countertop-making stores, Cosentino likewise ran its own network of stores, which happened called Stone Systems. With a lots areas, Stone Systems costs itself as “the biggest network of typically owned stone fabrication stores” in The United States and Canada.

Rodriguez operated at Stone Systems of Houston, formerly called Silestone of Houston.

” From 2000 to 2004, we were a little, actually little business,” states Rodriguez, who cut and polished counter tops in a space with about a lots other employees.

The risks of dry cutting

Throughout those early days, according to pretrial depositions from Rodriguez and business executives, cutting was done dry. That indicates no spray of water on the cutting blades to keep dust from flying into the air.

The business later on altered this practice. However for years, Rodriguez did a range of tasks to process the pieces, surrounded by dust from his own cutting which of his colleagues.

” We see dust all over. Even on the flooring, in our hair, in all our bodies, I imply all over,” remembers Rodriguez.

Dust from cut stone is possibly hazardous if it includes the mineral silica, which can trigger a lung illness called silicosis The lungs end up being irritated and establish scars. There’s no remedy, and the illness is progressive. Individuals with silicosis gradually suffocate.

That’s been understood for a long period of time; silicosis is among the earliest recognized occupational risks. In the 1930 s, the Department of Labor even made a work environment security movie called Stop Silicosis, which stressed that silicosis might be avoided by managing dust with water sprays and vacuum systems.

Rodriguez, who matured on a farm and operated in dining establishment cooking areas, didn’t understand any of that. He likewise didn’t understand that due to the fact that Silestone is made primarily of quartz, it includes a great deal of silica. It can be as much as 90% crystalline silica– about two times as much as natural granite.

According to Rodriguez, his employers didn’t discuss what he was cutting, or the risk.

” The very first time I heard ‘silica’ was when my medical professional informed me that I had it,” he affirmed, describing that security training readily available at work had actually concentrated on how to prevent injuries like being cut, instead of anything associated to lung illness.

” They do not inform us anything about the item,” he informed NPR. “Absolutely nothing.”

An absence of screening

What’s more, internal business files produced throughout the claim reveal that in 2002, a number of years after Rodriguez began working there, a security specialist kept in mind that the center had not been examined for worker direct exposures to silica and advised doing an evaluation. However a company worked with to assist the business run a security program didn’t do any screening of the dust in the air, and a file describes issues about the expense of laboratory tests.

” Neither Cosentino nor Stone Systems can make a public declaration relating to any legal action or the files associated therein. Up until now, any file that has actually become part of a legal action has actually been efficiently dealt with and fixed because case,” a business representative informed NPR. The claim was settled in complete confidence in 2016, without any admission of liability.

Rodriguez operated at the Houston purchase years. Throughout that time, he got wed and began a household. He stopped playing soccer, however, due to the fact that he discovered it too stressful.

” I was simply believing, ‘Oh, perhaps I’m aging, that’s why I’m getting tired so quickly,'” he states.

Then he established a consistent cough. In 2010, his better half firmly insisted that he go to the medical professional, who took X-rays.

” And he stated, ‘Look, uh, your lungs are looking actually, actually bad. My report returned that you have silicosis,'” keeps in mind Rodriguez. “I had actually never ever heard that word prior to. Never ever.”

Rodriguez had actually constantly been healthy– he wasn’t a cigarette smoker and had actually been athletic. And now, at simply 33 years of ages, he found out that the silicosis would become worse, and might eliminate him.

A colored X-ray reveals the lungs of a client with silicosis, which is triggered by breathing in silica dust particles. Scarred tissue and swelling are represented by orange.

SPL/Science Source.

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toggle caption

SPL/Science Source.

A colored X-ray reveals the lungs of a client with silicosis, which is triggered by breathing in silica dust particles. Scarred tissue and swelling are represented by orange.

SPL/Science Source.

” I bear in mind that I went to the church. And I informed God, ‘Look, I do not understand if I can manage it myself.’ I began sobbing,” states Rodriguez. “For me, it was something destructive.”

He informed his employers about his medical diagnosis. They moved him to another position, a workplace task, considering that he needed to be far from the silica.


Around that time, supervisors installed a check in the Houston fabrication store that cautioned employees of the risk of silica, according to testament in the claim brought by Rodriguez, who was represented by Dallas-based lawyer Chris Panatier.

Yet in 2009, a year previously, the business had actually checked the work environment air for the very first time, according to a file produced by the business throughout the claim. Those tests exposed silica direct exposure levels above the legal limitation in 3 of 7 employees who used tracking gadgets to examine the air quality around them.

In addition, “results surpassed the 50% advisory action level for 3 extra determined workers,” according to the file, which kept in mind that outcomes at or above this level “suggest the analytical capacity for too much exposure on other days, and the requirement for restorative action.”

In 2011, another round of air tests discovered generally the very same outcome: 3 of 7 kept an eye on employees above the acceptable direct exposure limitation, according to info exposed in the depositions.

This was so although all of the procedures, the cutting and grinding, were utilizing water to keep down the dust.

NPR asked for an interview with Roberto Contreras, the very first CEO of Cosentino The United States And Canada, to inquire about the early days of the crafted stone market in the U.S., the Rodriguez silicosis case, and how the market’s view of silica altered with time.

” I actually have no discuss this subject,” responded Contreras in a composed message. “I can just inform you I am not familiar with any early case of Silicosis in a Stone Systems store. Likewise, as far as I understand, all Stone System stores deal with devices that cuts with water, they do moist grind or cut anything; absolutely decreasing Silicosis.”

In 2015, Contreras offered a deposition in Rodriguez’s claim. He stated then, under oath, that he did not remember when he found out that silica can trigger lung damage and other health effects.

” I can not inform you the precise time, however it was at some point in the mid 2000 s,” Contreras affirmed. He kept in mind that he had actually personally operated in a fabrication store without getting ill. “Later on we entered into damp grinding. Therefore I didn’t– I didn’t believe there was a concern.”

Travis Dupre, the existing vice president of sales for Stone Systems, affirmed in a deposition that he found out of the risks of silica through word of mouth in the market, around late 2003 or early 2004, when the Houston store had actually transferred to a brand-new center and set up damp procedures.

” We seemed like we were doing what was sensible. We had actually changed whatever to damp grinding. We had actually moved into a center with much better ventilation. We ‘d imposed no dry cutting. We seemed like we were taking the sensible actions,” Dupre affirmed.

Describing the indication installed in 2010 with an alerting about silica, Dupre affirmed, “we must have put the register previously.”

Counting on respirators

Rodriguez affirmed that at an early stage, employees had actually been offered basic face masks to fend off dust, however often these weren’t readily available, so employees recycled old ones or perhaps would utilize something like “a piece of towel.”

Then they were offered respirators. In 2002, a security specialist began an official respirator program, and Rodriguez was fit-tested for a respirator with changeable filters that seals to the face and offers more defense, according to files and testament.

However federal government guidelines state that depending on respirators must just be utilized as a last option, if silica dust in the environment can’t be sufficiently managed with other procedures such as vacuums or water.

That’s due to the fact that it is tough to correctly and dependably use a respirator day after day for many years while doing manual work. It’s a lot more protective, security professionals state, to eliminate silica from the surrounding environment.

The Houston store wasn’t the only one in Cosentino’s Stone Systems network that had problems with silica. Its countertop-cutting centers in other states were being mentioned by the Occupational Security and Health Administration for exposing employees to this risk.

In March 2013, for instance, OSHA got a problem about conditions at Stone Systems of New England, in Rhode Island. The inspector’s report kept in mind that damp grinding and cutting methods were utilized, however “there has actually been no screening done to confirm efficiency of the damp approaches to manage the dust.”

October 2011 Evaluation Of A Stone Systems Store

This video, gotten through a public records demand, reveals the assessment of a Stone Systems store in Colorado in2011 Files reveal raised levels of silica were discovered. The business made modifications, like enhanced house cleaning. A follow-up assessment in 2013 revealed the air quality had actually enhanced and was within appropriate limitations.

Do not see the video above? Click on this link

OSHA did that screening, which revealed that a person employee there was exposed to air-borne silica levels around 4.6 times the acceptable limitation. Another employee was exposed to 17.5 times the limitation. At that greater level of direct exposure, the respirator being used would not use sufficient defense, according to OSHA files explaining the offense.

What’s more, not all employees had actually been correctly fit-tested for respirators, and some using respirators had facial hair, which disrupts the seal to the face, according to the citation.

When inquired about these OSHA citations in Rhode Island, along with other OSHA citations from 2011 associated to silica direct exposure in its stores in Minnesota and Colorado, a representative for Cosentino responded that “all OSHA citations discussed in your concerns were small citations and the charges were substantially lowered. In addition, all of them were completely eased off and fixed.”

In 2014, Rodriguez and his health problem concerned the attention of occupational health professionals who had actually watched for cases in this market.

Abroad cases

They had actually simply composed a blog site post about crafted quartz employees coming down with silicosis overseas in Israel and Spain, where this product was initially made and cost years prior to it concerned the U.S.

” Doctor who presume that their clients’ illness might be triggered by dealing with quartz-containing products are motivated to report their issue to their state health department,” they prompted.

2 months later on, the Texas Department of State Health Providers found out about Rodriguez. Authorities called the National Institute for Occupational Security and Health and asked it to assess the risks in the store where he had actually worked.

Scientists gone to in April 2015, stating that they were doing so due to the fact that “to our understanding, this was the very first reported case in The United States and Canada of silicosis from occupational direct exposure to quartz emerging products” which state authorities had “asked us to assess workers’ direct exposures to air-borne crystalline silica at the center where the individual with silicosis worked,” according to their report

” Although the business utilized damp approaches to manage dust, we discovered too much exposures to respirable crystalline silica,” the report states. “Direct exposures were greatest for workers utilizing pneumatic damp mills with diamond cup wheels. We advised the business usage engineering manages to reduce direct exposures.”

In private interviews with NIOSH, some workers stated they cleaned up or swept up dust without utilizing damp approaches– a bad concept, as it can send out unnoticeable silica swirling up into the air.

Likewise, some employees “reported not having actually gotten training on the risks of crystalline silica associated to their work at the center,” according to the NIOSH report.

Cosentino accepted let NIOSH scientists run extra tests in the Houston store and in Stone Systems of Minnesota, to study how silica can be managed while cutting stone and crafted quartz counter tops.

” By doing so, Stone Systems has actually been leading the trial and execution of precaution to benefit all market individuals for the advantage of all workers that operate in this service,” the business informed NPR in a composed declaration.

Chaolong Qi, a NIOSH scientist, states he has actually discovered that cutting or grinding crafted stone made from quartz releases greater quantities of silica than natural stone.

Despite the fact that the hand-held mills utilized by employees provided a spray of dust-dampening water, states Qi, “often the water may not be moistening the surface area efficiently. So they get a bit of dust coming out, constantly.”

Wet Cutting Approaches

This mill utilizes water, however dust plumes are still visible. Scientists have actually discovered methods to include more water while grinding that, in research studies, even more decrease silica dust to appropriate levels.

Do not see the video above? Click on this link

Those little puffs of dust most likely weren’t an issue when counter top producers were working specifically with natural stone, he states, “due to the fact that natural stone has much less silica material. Now, they work increasingly more with crafted stone, which has much greater silica material, approximately like 90% plus. That ends up being a concern.”

” Generally they felt that the damp operation suffices, however it appears like it’s not,” states Qi. He has actually been examining extra engineering controls like having actually specific procedures performed in a separated cubicle geared up with unique air-handling devices.

” There will be methods to decrease direct exposure listed below the OSHA requirement,” he states. “I can absolutely state it’s an understandable issue.”

Cosentino executives enabled an NPR press reporter to visit among its centers, Stone Systems of New Jersey.

Beside employees ending up counter tops with water-fed, hand-held tools, there were dust elimination systems– gadgets that draw dust towards drapes of streaming water. Dupre stated they were set up a number of years earlier.

Lowered silica levels

Published on the wall of the worker break space were the outcomes of silica screening done last December. Employees’ names were noted beside their direct exposure level. All of the silica levels were low– less than half of what the federal government permits.

Dupre stated outcomes like this are the objective of Stone Systems for each place around the nation. Which the business adheres to OSHA guidelines.

In February 2018, Stone Systems of New England, in Rhode Island, was once again gone to by an OSHA inspector, who observed numerous employees using respirators improperly, with straps in the incorrect position or with facial hair. The OSHA assessment report stated that air-borne silica levels had not been checked considering that OSHA’s previous assessment, in 2013.

” Because the company has actually not carried out tasting because that time, it is sensible to presume that the too much exposure still exists,” the report kept in mind, stating the respirator issues might enable “employees to be over-exposed to silica-containing dusts.”

When inquired about the OSHA inspector’s assertion that no air tasting had actually been done there for 5 years, the business did not contest it.

A handwritten part of files from the 2018 OSHA assessment kept in mind that the Rhode Island store was preparing to set up brand-new dust elimination devices.

” Stone Systems is continuously working to enhance the security at all centers. Particularly, Stone Systems has actually invested, and continues to invest, in engineering controls (consisting of basic ventilation systems, regional extraction systems and filtering systems, to name a few), that have actually been even more checked by NIOSH,” the business informed NPR in a declaration.

Inquired About Rodriguez, his previous company informed NPR that owing to problems of personal privacy, “neither Stone Systems nor Cosentino might go over the medical condition of any existing or previous workers, whether gotten in touch with this topic.”

Rodriguez feels lucky that his lungs have not decreased as quickly as he initially feared.

However, “the medical professionals have actually been informing me that I need to begin searching for a lung transplant,” he states. “I understand it’s going to get even worse.”

He attempts to value every day as it comes. Still, he states, he gets brief of breath and tires quickly.

And it’s tough to be so minimal in what he can do at the age of 42, specifically due to the fact that he has kids.

” In some cases I simply wish to have fun with my kids, keep up my kids, or perhaps go outdoors and walk,” states Rodriguez.