Damaging to lungs

Over the past few years, there has been increasing concern about the use of silica-containing artificial stone – which is used to make bench tops for kitchens and bathrooms.

When silica dust is inhaled, it can cause permanent damage to the lungs and the respiratory illness silicosis can develop. Silicosis causes scarring of the lung tissue, which makes it hard to breathe. It can severely reduce quality of life, and – in extreme cases – be fatal. There is no cure for silicosis.

The Asthma and Respiratory Foundation NZ is calling for a ban on engineered stone to better protect respiratory health for all workers throughout the country. This echoes calls from Royal Australasian College of Physicians (RACP) and the Thoracic Society of Australia and New Zealand (TSANZ).

In New Zealand, between 750 and 900 people die from work-related diseases each year. These are besides the 5000-6000 hospital admissions each year because of work-related ill-health.

Banning engineered stone will not eliminate silicosis, although it will protect those involved in very high-risk work from further exposure. In December 2023, the Australian Government announced a ban on the material, and now New Zealand respiratory groups are calling for a similar veto.

It can take up to 10 years after exposure for symptoms of silicosis to appear, meaning that people who work with silica-containing substances rarely realise that damage is being done to their lungs while they are working with it. The first signs usually include these bronchitis-like symptoms, and sufferers also experience weakness, fatigue,  fever, night sweats, leg swelling and bluish discoloration of the lips.

Did you know?
Silicosis is a long-term lung disease caused by inhaling large amounts of crystalline silica dust, usually over many years. Silica is a substance naturally found in certain types of stone, rock, sand, and clay.

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