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Public Health Medicine College Urges The Government To Follow Australia’s Lead In Banning The Use Of Engineered Stone

The New Zealand College of Public Health Medicine strongly urges the Government to follow Australia’s lead in banning the use of engineered stone. Late last year, Australia became the first country to announce a ban on the use of engineered stone, a popular material mostly used for kitchen benches and bathroom vanities. The material is frequently used by stonemasons to manufacture benchtops as it is a mixture of resin and quartz, which makes it cheaper and more durable than marble and granite.

However, according to WorkSafe New Zealand, engineered stone contains more than 90% silica, while natural stone contains less than 45%. Use of the material has been linked to lung disease, including silicosis (permanent scarring of the lungs), lung cancer and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD). Safe Work Australia has concluded that there is “no safe level of silica,” resulting in the use of all engineered stone being prohibited.

People who work with engineered stone may develop Accelerated Silicosis, which is a progressive and deadly disease that causes fibrosis of the lungs from the inhalation of respirable crystalline silica (RCS) dust. The number of Australian cases of Accelerated Silicosis have been rapidly rising, with estimates that as many as one in four stonemasons working with engineered stone are affected. Many of these are people in their 20s and 30s, with young families, who are now experiencing the devastating consequences of inhaling the RCS dust. These include a persistent cough, fatigue, sleep disturbance and weight loss, and could lead to respiratory failure.

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“Since Accelerated Silicosis may take up to ten years to become apparent, accurate data on the current number of cases is not available. However, numbers have increased in Australia, and we expect that the number is likely to be increasing in New Zealand too,” says Sir Collin Tukuitonga, President of the College. “Although WorkSafe does encouraging businesses to maintain safe practices to protect workers, we believe that the current regulations are not enough to protect people at risk of exposure.”

“With around 60,000 slabs of engineered stone being imported annually into Aotearoa New Zealand, the College urges the Government to follow Australia’s lead and ban the use of engineered stone in New Zealand. It is important that we protect workers’ lives and act urgently to prevent further harm.”

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