Listen: 'There's No Good Dust': What Happens After Quartz Countertops Leave The Factory
"We're talking about Quartz countertops cutting them create silica dust that causes silicosis but the danger really starts in the the process of making those countertops. So how are they actually made all right. So Granite countertops. That's natural stone. That also contains silica but a lot less quartz countertops have a ton of it because of how they're made whether it's silence stone or Caesar Stone or any other brands they basically all get created the same way so this company called Cambria invited me to its manufacturing plant in Minnesota. And when you walk in over the entrance it says through these doors walked the finest countertop makers in the world how we doing the CEO. There is Mardi Davis and he showed showed me the entire factory. IT TURNS OUT ABOUT THIRTY THOUSAND SLABS OF QUARTZ countertop material every month well that means every day twenty to thirty trucks unload these huge white sacks full of courts I mean everything from like powdery snub to like little tiny pebbles so boat. Thirty thirty million pounds a coach a month. She'll but a million pounds a day a million pounds of course today. So we haven't moved into the actual. Cutting phase of the countertops. Yeah this is just the manufacturing but obviously dust is involved in this too right because they're using this stuff to make the the materials and so Martin told me. His factory has millions of dollars worth of air handling systems to control dust. There's no good dust zero so this dust is silica does tell me what silica okay is. Exactly we'll silica is what makes up most of the Earth's crust you know it's like rocks in courts courts is just a form of Silica. And what's worrisome. In terms of health else are tiny microscopic bits of silica that can be inhaled deep into the lungs. So and Maurice Factory we had to put on these white disposable respirators there's and you're up signs warning of Silica and then you go into this huge room filled with big mixers that's where the courts gets combined with pigments and binder. That makes it all kind of stick Dick together and it gets spread out onto a giant baking sheet. Then it goes through this machine that kind of vibrates and Simpson and the result is a compressed slab that sort sort of soft Hampton project. Feel how it is right now. It feels like cookie dough. Yeah that's exactly what. So when it gets heated the slap hardens and then it cools calls down and they Polish it up and we walk past rows and rows of these things these big colorful slabs. And they're all ready to be sent out to countertop makers which will cut them to fit customers kitchens and potentially generate dust so my question to mark Davis was this what responsibility doesn't manufacturer like him have breath for making sure that people cut all this material safely. You know How do you how do you police? your customers I. So he's he's kind of saying like bare making it but they can't really force countertop makers to cut it safely yeah he says they have thousands of customers. It's GONNA thousands of shops but something about this that I was surprised by now is that Silica and silicosis and the danger of working with the stuff is not a new thing. No it's like one of the oldest known own occupational hazards so like stonecutters and stuff throughout history have been known to get lung disease and there have been regulations and guidance on the books for decades. I mean there was this movie made in the Nineteen Thirties called stopped silicosis and basically people of known for a long time that anytime you cut through rock or demolish brick or concrete you can be exposed to silica dust. A wave of sweeping the country. Southern Coast was taking its toll from the ranks of American workers clause of the disease the results of the disease. This ableman ougherty that okay. So I'm listening to this old Timey silicosis tape. It seems like this has been around for a long in time. Why are we suddenly hearing about it in the countertop industry so that's an interesting question Public Health workers believe it could be because this courts is this sort of composite stone. which has this higher silica content? You know about twice as much silica as natural granite has really taken off in the last decade and become more and more popular. Can I just say I watch. TV and they're constantly pushing courts there like it's less expensive. It's just as strong but I'm telling you when I heard the story I was like Whoa. I have heard this over and over again. There's a lot of people working in this industry. Now you know. There's an estimated one hundred thousand people in the United States working in the countertop industry and the concern is that look you know these people are now cutting through material that has really really high silica content and they are quickly coming down with severe disease disease. He's I should add. That is entirely preventable. Right I mean you just control the dust and people do not get silicosis and you can find countertop businesses out there there that are doing things the right way so for example. I visited Capitol Granite near Richmond. Virginia and Paul Manager is the owner and he showed me around and we watch these big computer controlled machines cutting through slabs and as they did they were dumping up to thirty five gallons of water. A minute on the blade keep down the dust and we do not do any dry work whatsoever. that's the only way that you can eliminate any risk affiliated with With silicosis as usual so you know you look around his business and machine operators and folks doing touch shops with hand held tools. I mean they were not wearing masks or respirators and that's because is he knows the air in there is okay. He had the occupational safety and Health Administration come in and do tests but he told me. There's a lot of shops and you know outlets especially especially smaller operations that the occupational safety and Health Administration Osha never gets to and the stone. Cutting industry is basically unlicensed. It's not like plumbing or electrical or H FAC or any of the other trades. Where whereby there seems to be a standard or an international code okay so without these regulations there are people that are cutting these countertops? Don't have all this advanced equipment for their employees who just cut it kind of dry in the US gets everywhere and it's really dangerous. Exactly Lake the experience of one of the workers we heard from earlier on so he's from Washington state and he spent about four years. Cutting heading countertops. He told me that they did a lot of courts with equal. Yes Tom and company at when the Dow almost any AMMO in the company where we worked that we cut a lot. We had a lot of production. Shen US work there. We got about thirty to forty a day is a lien. He says he wore simple face mask that didn't provide enough protection and that no no one told him about silica or the danger so in two thousand sixteen he got this bad cough. That just wouldn't go away. And when he went to the doctor he insisted on tests to check his lungs even though the doctor was like. Oh you don't really need these one lawyer. Lisa loss loss exogenous when he did the test. Your doctor almost cried. He says I'm sorry you're right in your lungs very damaged. So he's thirty eight years old. He's got a wife and three kids and he's exhausted just walking from his house to his car. I mean he can't even carry groceries. Groceries was already. This puzzle is still after this happened. They made lots of changes in the company. They don't cut like they used to all the machines and the machines do most of the work. Okay so now what needs to change for this to basically stop happening. So that is the question A lot of people point to Osha the safety agency the Workplace Safety Agency at the Department of Labor and they say it needs to do more workplace inspections and enforcement but you know that agency is a pretty limited budget. It's in charge of like all workplaces all over the country not just countertop makers now you know workers can always make complaints like inspectors will go in if workers workers make complaints but you may have noticed that it seems to be mainly affecting Hispanic or Latino workers sure and you know there's concerns that there may be language anguish differences if there's any issues with Documentation of you know immigration status. Right right. They may not want to speak up. Because you you could imagine that there are more people out there that just haven't been found that's right so you know how to get the word out and how to You know really understand. Stand the extent of the problem. Here is really uncertain right now. Is there anything that you as a consumer can do to kind of. Try to make sure that you're getting a countertop from a place that doesn't do just you know like dry cutting only I mean I think just being aware that this is a potential issue and just having it in the back of your mind as something then you can ask about like a lot of times. People are only interested in like price per square foot. Sure right these are not cheap. countertop right right you have. Choices is about who produces these things for you and it's worth asking some questions about like exactly what their processes are and how they know that they're doing it safely."