For many workers, cutting some delicate furniture for kitchens and bathrooms can be hazardous to their health.
“Their hair is all white, their clothes are all white, and they don’t realize the dangers of cutting this material,” said María Cabrera of Pacoima Beauty.
Workers pick up a saw or angle grinder without imagining what they will be breathing in that moment.
“When they cut away at the dust called silica, it goes directly into the lungs,” Cabrera added.
According to the California government, 400 to 800 of the 4,000 workers will develop silicosis, and 161 of them will die. According to Pacoima Beautiful in the San Fernando Valley, they have discovered at least 60 cases of silicosis.
But how did this situation begin?
The disease presents with “a mild cough, shortness of breath, lung infection, and when they go to the doctor and don’t say what they do, they’re diagnosed with pneumonia, not silicosis, but they continue to work,” said Dr. . Edgar Chavez.
There is no cure for silicosis, and people with long-term silicosis need a lung transplant. Therefore, Dr. Chavez said workers must consider “the protective measures that workers must take in the workplace to prevent dangerous particles from remaining in their bodies.”
Claudia Vazquez from Pacoima Beauty showed “the mask and those (glasses) that protect her eyes, and the coveralls that protect her clothes and skin, free from dust.”
A large number of affected workers are Latino, and there are fewer and fewer natural materials workers. The workplace must have ventilation and water to control dust. But also keep in mind that “as time goes by, you don’t want to do physical exams or general exams anymore,” said worker Rodolfo Sifuentes.
Silicosis is a disease that causes scarring of the lungs due to inhalation of crystalline silica particles. In California, immigrant workers are disproportionately affected and more likely to suffer the effects.
There is a link between silicosis and Latino men who dedicate themselves to cutting countertops, marble or granite tiles that are often placed in kitchens and bathrooms, according to a report published in June in JAMA Internal Medicine.
The report consisted of 52 participants aged between 40 and 49 years old who had been in the industry for more than 10 years. Most participants were immigrants from Mexico, El Salvador, and other Central American countries.
However, the disease has been reported in a young man as young as 27 years old. Leobardo Segura Meza, who suffered from silicosis, is one such example. In photos taken at his home in Pacoima, he can be seen carrying an oxygen tank, which he must use constantly.
Of the 52 participants, 38% had advanced disease and 19% were at risk of losing their lives.
In addition, 11 participants were referred for lung transplantation. Three underwent surgery and only two survived. Exposure to crystalline silica is primarily caused by inhalation of dust blown from the cutting table.
According to the regulations of the Ministry of Industrial Relations, the permissible limit for respiration of crystalline silica during an eight-hour working period is 50 micrograms per cubic meter. However, most countertops contain over 90% crystalline silica.
The most produced countertops in the United States are engineered countertops (including engineered stone, synthetic stone, or gravel quartz). The manufacturer’s responsibility is to cut, grind and polish the material.
The problem is that many locations do not have adequate ventilation, dust control methods or personal protective equipment, the report said. Only 5% of participants wore respirators that covered their entire face.
Of the 52 participants, only 20% had (limited) Medi-Cal insurance. And 10% confirmed that they did not have any health insurance. These numbers affect the chances of dying from respiratory diseases such as silicosis.
In addition to this, most participants were from lower socioeconomic backgrounds. Many of these workers are not getting other types of jobs, forcing them to stay where they are.