Monday, March 20, 2023



This subject has been in the news a lot lately. It’s an issue which greatly affects my industry from the initial product specification stage to the end manufacturing- which is where the disease is occurring.

It relates to the silica content in the dust of quartz, sand, stone, soil, granite, brick, cement, grout, mortar and bitumen. But it’s the engineered stone benchtops that have been causing the most problems. I don’t see the demand for stone benchtops declining at any stage in the future.

However the past couple of years has seen the trend swing back to the natural stone for benchtops as opposed to the engineered stone. The reason for the resurgence of natural is riding on the 70’s design trend going through, which heavily features stone but also celebrates the uniqueness of each stone slab.

Engineered stone was invented for numerous reasons. It enabled a consistent finish to be guaranteed. If you wanted a particular colour or pattern heaviness in the stone slab you could specify it and know you would get that. If you are using real stone slabs you need to go to the actual stone mason and reserve your specific slab if you wish to ensure you get that exact pattern appearance.  The natural stone could not guarantee exact colours and patterning. The natural was also limited by the amount found in nature. Some stones are very expensive because they are rare and found in one off locations in the world.

Manufactured stone enabled the creation of a similar look to the real but could be provided as an endless supply.

The manufactured stone is a much stronger product than some types of natural stone, which may have cracks and fissures resulting in higher breakage and therefore replacement costs.

Silica does occur in natural stone, however it’s usually around 30% silica. The manufactured stone is has approx. 80%  or higher silica due to the formula.

How does the building industry keep up with the demand for a product while eliminating the dangers of manufacturing the product?

For a while now the major engineered stone companies have been creating new products with a lower silica content. Smartstone have a range with the stone image printed onto the top surface and allowing them to decrease the silica in the substrate. Caesarstone  are also working on new products which will have at least 40% or lower silica content. That is the percentage they are expecting the governments to regulate.

The other initiative which has been implemented for a while is safer handling procedures to manufacture with this product. I must say that any stone masons I’ve worked with over the years have been very professional and run wet cutting procedures. This is a proper way to cut as it eliminates the deadly dust. However there have been some manufactures who have not wanted the expense of setting up a wet factory and cut dry.

I’m keen to see how this all develops as I know we can’t simply outlaw stone benchtops.