I remember my friend, a chef in a former life, was designing her kitchen in the early 2000s. Engineered stone was coming into the Australian kitchen market with a vengeance, and I asked her if she planned to use it. She said ‘No, it’s carcinogenic, I’m not having that cancer creating stuff near my food.’ She opted for a Cashmere Gold naturally formed granite to make a statement in her kitchen, and it still looks amazing today.
Since then, I’ve been spruiking the concerns for engineered stones. In 2018, the ABC Four Corners did a report stating that there was a class action from 300 stonemasons who had contracted the incurable silicosis from working with the products. Standards across the states banned dry-cutting of the material in Queensland in 2018, Victoria in 2019 and New South Wales in 2020. There was also a ban on cutting benchtops on-site, ensuring the tiny particles did not enter our homes in the construction phase. In 2019, the government launched a National Dust Disease Taskforce, which reported its findings in 2021, discovering that 1 in 4 stonemasons who had been cutting the material since prior to 2018 had silicosis or other silica related diseases. They believe that 103,000 workers will develop silicosis, with 10,000 developing lung cancer from their work environment. Just imagine signing up for an apprenticeship in stonemasonry and signing on the dotted line that it was a life sentence? As that was what stonemasons were doing… It really is, too little too late.
There has been a call to ban the manufacturing of engineered stone products for good. About time! The Age reported this week, “Last November the Construction, Forestry, Maritime, Mining and Energy Union said that if the federal government did not ban engineered stone by July 2024 it would take industrial action to prevent its use by its members. The union has been joined by medical professionals and industry workers who believe if we cannot successfully enforce safe work practices nationally this is the only practical response to what is clearly an emerging health crisis.”
What can we do? We can stop creating a demand for engineered stone products. We will stop writing about ‘stone’ benchtops in our copy to stop making them look ‘trendy.’ We can highlight the better, safer benchtops out there – granite, Corianä, timber, marble (yet it is porous, and may need a sealer to reduce stains), stainless steel and even hardy old Laminexä. We did a podcast about this in 2020 with Tania Bell from Green Room Interiors (Episode 37) explaining our concerns. If we start this movement, removing the demand for engineered stone products, then we will see a changing landscape in our kitchens for the better, supporting our stonemasons’ health needs.
I do understand, that stonemasonry is their job, this is all that they know how to do, but it’s killing them. They can still form natural stone products – granite and marble. Porcelain benchtops have recently entered the market as a substitute. They have a very similar look to engineered stone, but apparently are much hardier in terms of heat, fire and scratch resistant, but are more brittle and susceptible to larger chips and cracks that can make it look unsightly. Their ‘patterns’ are only skin-deep, so if you need to fill a crack or chip with resin and then hone/sand it to make it level, it will be noticeable.
I have been passionate about this for literally decades, and it’s good to see there is action with the unions and government to put a ban to the production. I watched my own father die from non-smoking related emphysema finally passing in 2017. Family friends noticed my dad’s reduced breathing capacity back in 1978 when he was working on building sites as a builder. He finally retired in 2000, before engineered stone made it into our kitchens, but his illness was part work-related, part genetic. Building dust, in any form, especially for those who are most susceptible, is shortening the life span of our trades. If it’s not asbestos, if it’s not engineered or reconstituted stone, it will be something else. Let’s say ‘No’ to engineered stone products in our homes and businesses for good.