Silicosis can ravage the lungs of workers after they inhale tiny particles of crystalline silica while they cut and grind stone that contains the mineral.
The disease dates back centuries, but researchers say the booming popularity of countertops made of engineered stone, which has much higher concentrations of silica than many kinds of natural stone, has driven a new epidemic of an accelerated form of the suffocating illness. As the dangerous dust builds up and scars the lungs, the disease can leave workers short of breath, weakened and ultimately suffering from lung failure.
“You can get a transplant,” Cabrera told the man in Spanish, “but it won’t last.”
In California, it has begun to debilitate young workers, largely Latino immigrants who cut and polish slabs of engineered stone. Instead of cropping up in people in their 60s or 70s after decades of exposure, it is now afflicting men in their 20s, 30s or 40s, said Dr. Jane Fazio, a pulmonary critical care physician who became alarmed by cases she saw at Olive View-UCLA Medical Center. Some California patients have died in their 30s.
“They’re young guys who essentially have a terminal diagnosis,” Fazio said.