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US NGO: Artificial quartz countertop export spike leading to silicosis risks in India

Counterview Desk 

The Occupational Knowledge International (OK International), a US-based NGO that works to build capacity in developing countries to identify, monitor, and mitigate environmental and occupational exposures to hazardous materials in order to protect public health and the environment, has raised the alarm that the rise of a new export industry in India may lead to “significant health risks” in the country.
Pointing out that the growth in production of artificial stone countertops in India because of their huge demand in US, is bringing silicosis and tuberculosis (TB) risk, in a joint statement issued with Jeevan Rekha Parishad (JRP), a charity working on environmental justice, occupational health and climate change in Odisha, it said, the health risks of manufacturing and installing the countertops are “magnified as the silica content" in it is "approximately 90% versus 3% in natural marble.”

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Since 2018 when the US announced almost 300% anti-dumping tariff on Chinese made artificial stone countertops, Indian producers have expanded production to meet the rising global demand.
Indian companies immediately identified a huge opportunity in the quartz market and invested millions of dollars in new plants, equipment and quarries that supply the stone. However, the growth in the countertops industry is putting thousands of workers at risk from deadly silica dust.
Exports of artificial stone from India to the US have increased by 550% between 2015 and 2020. Exports from China were down by 99% during that same period while Indian and Vietnamese producers made up of the difference. India is now the third largest supplier to the US market.
“The huge growth in artificial stone manufacturing in India is putting tens of thousands of workers at risk for fatal diseases,” said Dr MR Mishra, director at Jeevan Rekha Parishad (JRP). 
“This is particularly of concern given that the stone quarries and processing plants supplying quartz to the industry are dominated by smaller producers and the informal sector without awareness of these health risks.”
These countertops are made by combining pure quartz with binders including the carcinogen styrene under a vacuum to make these artificial stone materials. Quartz is the most common form of silica which is linked to silicosis, bronchitis, emphysema, renal disease, immune system disorders and tuberculosis (TB). 
Workers in this industry have a very high mortality rate as these diseases there are no cure and no treatment to reverse these diseases. The health risks of manufacturing and installing these products are magnified as the silica content is approximately 90% versus 3% in natural marble.
“There is overwhelming evidence indicating that workers in these industries are experiencing extremely hazardous conditions and will come down with life threatening diseases within a few years unless mandatory dust controls are put in place”, said Perry Gottesfeld, executive director, OK International. “Occupational standards in India allow for six times greater exposures than are currently permitted in US.”
Exports of artificial stone from India to US have increased by 550% between 2015 and 2020. Exports from China went down by 99%
JRP has called upon the Ministry of Labour & Employment to implement an emergency standard to require dust controls, annual medical checkups and to lower the permissible exposure limits for silica dust in both factories and mines to match US levels.
In recent years, the production and installation of these countertops has been associated with a rapid onset acute form of silicosis among workers in Israel, China, Australia, US and the European Union. The Australian Council of Trade Unions has called for a national ban on artificial stone products and a National Dust Disease Taskforce recommended a full ban on imports by July 2024 if there are no measurable improvements in response to the large number of deaths reported in recent years.
The market for artificial quartz countertops in the US has more than doubled between 2009 and 2019. The country is the largest importer of these products made in India. The material also known as engineered or manufactured stone originated from Italy but has been licensed to more than 50 producers around the world since the 1980s.

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