Investigating the effects of particle size and exposure patterns on the pathogenesis of engineered stone associated silicosis

Silicosis is a fibrotic lung disease caused by inhalation of free crystalline silicon dioxide or silica. Occupational exposure to respirable crystalline silica dust particles occurs in many industries, including mining, quarrying, drilling, and sand blasting activities. The disease is a result of inflammation of the respiratory system tissues, leading to fibrosis of the lungs that reduces the ability to breathe efficiently. Furthermore, exposure to crystalline silica may also increase the risk of developing tuberculosis and other non-malignant respiratory diseases and contribute to renal and autoimmune respiratory diseases. There are three types of silicosis: chronic, accelerated and acute. Chronic is the most common form of the disease and usually develops after ten or more years of exposure to low concentrations. Accelerated silicosis results from exposure to high concentrations of silica dust over a five to ten-year period. Acute silicosis is a rare but highly fatal disease as a result of very high exposure to dust with high quartz content.

Silicosis is a rapidly emerging disease in high-income countries in relation to the replacement of natural stone with engineered stone, especially in the manufacturing and installation of kitchen and bathroom countertops. Like asbestosis, silicosis is a silent killer that is a particle dose-related disease with a long latency period. To reduce the incidence of industrial silica exposure it is important to understand the pathogenesis of the disease, particularly in the exposure patterns and the effects of the particle size on disease progression. While the problem of silicosis is now recognised as an emergent global problem, little is known of the disease and how to control it. This study will hopefully shed light on the pathogenesis of the disease and assist in solving this global problem.

Advisory Team: Dr Kelly Johnstone, Associate Professor Margaret Cook

Project members

Richard LEUNG

PhD Candidate