Doctors say that Australian stonemasons are facing the biggest lung disease crisis since asbestos, and it’s all thanks to our love of stone kitchen benches.

Silica dust created when stonemasons cut engineered stone for household bench tops is causing alarming levels of accelerated silicosis among stone workers.

Engineered stone can contain silica levels up to 90%, which is heaps higher than granite or marble. Workers without adequate respiratory protection are at risk of inhaling the silica particles, which can lead to shortness of breath, disability and death. People affected by the disease often require lung transplants.

The Queensland government has issues an urgent warning after 22 workers with silicosis lodged claims with WorkCover, including six cases that had progressed to the stage of terminal illness.

Brisbane occupational physician Dr Graeme Edwards told 7:30 that almost one in three workers tested in Queensland for silicosis showed signs of the disease.

I’m expecting another 300 cases in Queensland by December alone. It’s horrendous, it’s alarming. Fifty per cent of those are going to have progressive massive fibrosis (severe lung scarring).

The reason why it’s a public emergency is because the system in Australia currently can only can accommodate about 200 lung transplants a year.

We’re going to be adding another 130 […] who will be lining up for lung transplants in the next three to five years.

Health professionals are warning the public not to forget the lessons learned from asbestos, which has killed more than 10,000 people since the early 1980s.

Spokesperson for the Thoracic Society of Australia and New Zealand, Dr Ryan Hoy, says that he, too, has seen an astronomic increase in silicosis cases in the last 12 months, saying:

What we’re really worried about is those who have the disease but don’t yet know they have the disease present.

This is the largest occupational lung crisis we’ve seen since the peak of asbestos use in the 1960s and the 1970s

Both the Thoracic Society and the Royal Australasian College of Physicians are calling for immediate changes, including respiratory health assessments of all past and present stone workers, more vigilant and independent monitoring of dust levels, and an immediate ban on dry cutting.

Source: ABC
Image: Getty Images / Klaus Vedfelt