Monday, April 4, 2016

Green as Green Does

When I was running my consulting business on green remodeling for the homeowner I was inundated with products that were labeled "green." I often found many of them questionable as why they on surface were green (I am thinking cement, granite and wood) they were immediately altered in that component when any type of chemical or surface treatment or component was added to the product, therefore reducing the "greenness" of any product.

I look at some of the products that have been labeled "green" such as engineered wood for its sustainability. Guess Lumber Liquidators forgot to check.  Or the Chinese drywall problem.  Or lead paint that is still being made and used.  So there is always the reality that our newly manufactured green products are just being washed in a nice shade of pale green lead free paint.

I have no problem with 3Form or with Resin they are all chemical composites that have immensely long shelf lives so they are balanced with that trade off.  Being green is being good at balancing, trading and accepting that being green comes in many shades and in turn costs a great deal of green when one wants to go into the deep shades.

Over time we are seeing an immense change in solar and wind energy and the costs are reflective of that. And in turn service, installation and maintenance is also more accessible and in turn affordable for consumers.  However the reality is that the once tax incentives and utility credits available are in turn disappearing with the growth of alternative but still strong fossil fuel industry and their lobbying efforts.  And that is not just in the U.S that this is happening.

As I rarely write about the green build programs, I still care about environmental issues and the long term impacts that we as consumers contribute to the damage to the planet;  however, you want to define, label or ignore, that reality is one that shows outside our windows that with each passing season our weather has become more unpredictable, our water less consumable and our arid land less fertile and available for food production. As the world population grows I have to say it is ironic that it is accompanying a trend that women and access to family planning and birth control seems to be moving in the opposite direction. I am not sure what we are more afraid of - fewer people or fewer of the right "kind" of people.

But as in any world the aspects of Social Darwinism raises its head. We are less regulatory and less concerned with safety of the lower caste, tier or the working class as they are disposible as long as there are plenty of them!!

Building is largely a labor marketplaces that relies on bodies and until the Silicon Valley men can create that robot with AI to punch out sheetrock we rely on the steady body of immigrants who are willing to do so for less wages, less occupational safety and job security.  This way OSHA is just an acronym of an another useless government agency that with little to no funding, inadequate staffing which in turn means less inspections and safety citations, that 2000 foot tower housing the wealthy will be built in no time.

And inside that tower of  wealth the need for high end fixtures and finishes comes at a cost - the human that fabricated them.

Popular Quartz Countertops Pose a Risk to Workers

As sleek “engineered stone” countertops grow in popularity, safety experts are warning that workers who handle them are at particularly high risk from an old workplace hazard — silica, the mineral tied to silicosis, a debilitating and potentially deadly lung disease.

The countertops are made from processed quartz, a material containing silica levels as high as 90 percent, or twice the amount found in marble.
When slabs of engineered stone are cut and finished to fit a kitchen or bathroom, large quantities of silica particles are released. If workers inhale them, it can start a process leading to silicosis as well as to lung cancer and kidney disease.

The risks posed by the countertops are receiving new scrutiny after the Occupational Safety and Health Administration last week announced long-delayed rules to sharply reduce exposure to silica among workers. When announcing the changes, federal officials and safety experts also reiterated warnings about the silica-related risks posed by the new countertops.

Outside the United States, where the use of engineered stone products first took off, there have been numerous cases of silicosis. In Israel, for example, about 300 workers have been found to have the disease, including 22 patients who have undergone lung transplants, said Dr. Mordechai R. Kramer, who heads the Institute of Pulmonary Medicine in Petah Tikva, Israel.

The countertops do not pose risks to consumers in their homes. But workers handling engineered stone can have significant exposure to silica, particularly if they are working without proper equipment.
“It is the people who get the slabs and cut them to size who are at risk,” said Dr. Paul D. Blanc, a professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, who specializes in occupational health.

Imports of engineered stone slabs into the United States grew by about 50 percent from 2013 to 2014, according to federal estimates. The products are popular with designers and consumers because they are attractive, durable, easy to clean and cheaper than marble counters.

To produce them, quartz stones are crushed, mixed with plastic and formed into slabs. During the process, colors and other materials are added to create a variety of surface finishes and textures.
Major manufacturers of the products, which are sold under brand names like Zodiaq, Caesarstone and Silestone, include DuPont; Caesarstone Sdot-Yam, a company based in Israel; and Cosentino, which has its headquarters in Spain.
Consumers buy the countertops though retail stores, choosing the colors and styles they want from samples. An outside contractor then goes to a customer’s home, takes measurements, and cuts, drills and finishes the countertop in a workshop.

A 2012 article in a medical publication, Chest Journal, reported on the outbreak of silicosis in workers in Israel. Two years later, another publication, The International Journal of Occupational and Environmental Health, described a similar outbreak in Spain.

In that study, researchers reported that while the overall number of silicosis cases in Spain had declined from 2003 to 2007, the number of cases had subsequently risen, driven by cases involving engineered stone. In some instances, workers needed lung transplants to survive.

“The use of new construction materials such as quartz conglomerates has increased silicosis incidence due to intense occupational exposures,” that study concluded.

In the United States, workplace controls are often better than those found abroad. Nonetheless, a 2013 study by researchers at the University of Oklahoma, who surveyed the safety equipment used at countertop fabrication companies in that state, found that most protections were inadequate. Such companies often employ just a handful of people.

It is unclear in how many cases engineered stone has contributed to silicosis in the United States. Two years ago, Texas health officials reported the first documented case in the country of silicosis among countertop workers. The man, Ublester Rodriguez, had spent nearly a decade working with engineered stone countertops and other products containing silica.

Mr. Rodriguez, a 39-year-old father of three who lives in the Houston area, declined to be interviewed for this article, citing continuing litigation. But in a pretrial deposition, Mr. Rodriguez, who now breathes with the aid of an oxygen tank, testified he often left work covered in white dust.
“When you come out of that room, your eyes were like white,” he said. “White. Your hair — your hair was like totally white because of the dust.”

Manufacturers provide material safety data sheets describing the silica-related risks of engineered stone, and they say that worker hazards can be eliminated using controls such as protective respirators and equipment designed to trap silica dust, like power saws that release streams of water.
In response to written questions, Caesarstone said it did not know how many cases of silicosis had been reported among people working with its products or whether the annual number of those cases was rising or falling.

After the article in Chest Journal, Caesarstone threatened legal action against the publication, which had documented the outbreak of silicosis in Israel.

Originally, the article used the term “Caesarstone silicosis” in its title, in reference to the company’s major position in the Israeli market for engineered stone. But soon after the study appeared, Caesarstone threatened to bring a lawsuit against the American College of Chest Physicians, the organization that publishes the journal, unless the term was removed.

“Utilization of Caesarstone’s trademark and trade name as a name of a disease causes the company significant damage and irreparably harms its good will,” the company wrote in a 2012 letter.
In a statement, Dr. Richard S. Irwin, the publication’s editor in chief, said he decided to remove the term from the report because the types of silicosis described in it were not unique to Caesarstone but applied to engineered stone products in general.

“Chest did not make the change because of threatened legal action,” Dr. Irwin said in the statement.
Dr. Irwin added that the report’s authors agreed with his decision. Dr. Kramer, the Israeli physician who led the study, estimated that Caesarstone accounted for 99 percent of the market there, adding that the company had faced dozens of lawsuits from injured workers.

Dr. Blanc, the expert at the University of California, said the cases of silicosis related to engineered stone already reported may be the forerunners of many more to come.

Along with the United States, the use of engineered stone is also booming in China, a nation where workers often have little safety protection. “You can only imagine what is going on over there,” he said.

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