22 February 2023

You’ve probably seen the significant media coverage of engineered stone this week: “A common building material is being likened to the ‘new asbestos’ despite being used in kitchens across the country, putting more than 275,000 Aussie tradies at risk of cancer and lung disease. Engineered stone countertops, which are riddled with deadly silica, are causing silicosis — an incurable work-related lung disease. More than 70 cases are before Australian courts. Workers, many on oxygen tanks or needing lung transplants, insist they were never warned about how dangerous the material they worked with could be. … Engineered stone contains up to 95 per cent crystalline silica, the dust of which is highly toxic. When inhaled in large quantities, it can cause a host of deadly illnesses, including silicosis, auto-immune diseases, lung cancer, kidney disease and pulmonary infections. Marble, by contrast, contains just two per cent silica. Granite contains between 10 and 50 per cent. A study from Curtin University estimated more than 275,000 workers, mostly tradies, were exposed to high levels of the carcinogenic dust. Up to 103,000 of them would be diagnosed with silicosis, the study predicted.” A piecemeal health and safety approach has failed to change the lax safety culture in the industry, and workers and their families are paying the price. It’s time to ban engineered stone.

Cosentino, which accounts for over 20% of stone benchtops in Australia, was found guilty in Spain of criminal negligence for failing to warn of the known danger posed by its products that contained 95% silica. After the recent media coverage, they are now demanding: “The immediate solution is everyone buys products that are less than 40 per cent silica.” Of course, they have not stopped selling the products they want banned — they know it’s dangerous, but won’t stop selling it unless they are forced to.