Support for LAist comes from
We Explain L.A.
Stay Connected

Share This

How To LA

The Risks of Silica Dust Remain High, Despite Decades Of Awareness

A man has tubes into his nostrils, he wears a blue Dodgers LA cap
Juan Rodrigo Gonzalez Morín, 36, of Sun Valley, must use an oxygen tank to supplement his breathing due to a long-term lung disease, known as silicosis, that he contracted while cutting and grinding artificial stone countertops for his job, shown here posing for a photo at Sun Valley Park in the Sun Valley neighbored of Los Angeles, Calif., on Tuesday, Oct. 25, 2022.
(Trevor Stamp for LAist)
Before you read more...
Dear reader, we're asking you to help us keep local news available for all. Your tax-deductible financial support keeps our stories free to read, instead of hidden behind paywalls. We believe when reliable local reporting is widely available, the entire community benefits. Thank you for investing in your neighborhood.

All it takes is a few years of inhaling silica dust and your life could be forever cut short.

Silicosis Has a Long Dangerous History

About How to LA Newsletter
  • This is the web version of our How To LA newsletter. Sign up here to get this newsletter sent to your inbox each weekday morning

This fact was known centuries ago. By the early 20th century, it became a public health emergency as thousands of American miners, foundry workers, sandblasters and stone cutters were dying from silicosis, the disease that develops after inhaling silica dust.

Support for LAist comes from

The year was 1938. Franklin D. Roosevelt was president. Labor laws aimed at protecting American workers of all ages were stamped in the books.

The U.S. Department of Labor released a 12-minute public service announcement warning of the dangers of silicosis.

The video explains what it is, what causes it and how it can be prevented. 

Cause of the Disease: Dust. 

Results of the disease: Disablement. Poverty. Death. 

Cure for the Disease: None. 

In this short film, Secretary of Labor Frances Perkins states how damaging these fine particles of dust are.

In the film, a man, who the narrator said was once strong, is seen struggling to pick up his shovel and wheelbarrow. He’s coughing, and is unable to do a day’s work. He’s fired.

But this isn’t just ancient history. Even with all of the technology and workplace safety improvements since the 1930s, stone fabricators all over the world, including in Los Angeles, are still dying from exposure to this silica dust.

Support for LAist comes from

Public Health Watch’s Jim Morris and my colleague, LAist’s Leslie Berestein Rojas, teamed up to take an investigative look at how a preventable respiratory disease that’s been cutting the lives of quarrymen short for centuries (all the way back to ancient Greece) is still impacting workers in 2022.

The reporters talked to Juan Gonzalez Morin and Gustavo Reyes Gonzalez, two of at least 30 people who spent years cutting engineered-stone countertop in the L.A. region and who now have an accelerated form of silicosis. Just like the man in the video from 1938, 32-year-old Reyes moves slowly, lacking energy and strength to do most activities. His life will never be the same.  

I have spoken to God. If it is my time to go, I am happy to go with him … If the transplant comes first or it doesn’t come, I have accepted it.
— Gustavo Reyes Gonzalez

According to their report, this outbreak in L.A. is believed to be the largest cluster of the disease in the United States. If Gonzalez and Morin don’t receive a lung transplant, they could die within a year. Lung transplants cost over $1 million and even that won’t give them back a normal life.

How can this still be happening? What has the Occupational Safety and Health Administration been able to do to prevent these illnesses? Has anyone held the manufacturers and suppliers of the engineered-stone countertops accountable? What about the employers of those who have fallen ill?

Jim Morris and Leslie Berestein Rojas answer these questions and more in this investigation.

As always, stay happy and healthy, folks. There’s more news below — just keep reading.

We’re here to help curious Angelenos connect with others, discover the new, navigate the confusing, and even drive some change along the way.

More News

(After you stop hitting snooze)

*At LAist we will always bring you the news freely, but occasionally we do include links to other publications that may be behind a paywall. Thank you for understanding! 

  • Hospitalizations for COVID-19 are spiking again. L.A. County is now moving into the medium risk tier, as defined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Positive cases have risen 180% in the last month
  • Of 223,000 applications for L.A.’s Section 8 housing waitlist, 30,000 lottery winners have now been added.  
  • It'll be a wet commute in some areas this morning but it's hard to know what the weather will be like the rest of the weekend. We might not get much rain after all, according to the National Weather Service.
  • Are you taking a flight this holiday season? My colleague Caitlin Hernández has some tips on how to make traveling to and from and through LAX a whole lot easier. 
  • For the first time in 15 years, Orange County will not open a cold weather winter shelter for people experiencing homelessness. County officials cite staffing shortages and an inability to find a group to operate it
  • An experimental drug called lecanemab has shown some success in slowing down memory decline in people who are in the early stages of Alzheimer’s. This comes after years of trial and error in developing drugs that could remove amyloid from the brain. Yet, side-effects have been reported. 
  • The Supreme Court said it will hear the challenge to President Biden’s student loan relief plan. The roll out of the plan will remain blocked until then.
  • Armenian guitarist Andrew Kzirian is keeping age-old Armenian traditions alive whenever he plays an instrument called the oud. The music, known as kef, has been heard in the U.S. for generations following the 1915 genocide.
  • L.A. Comic Com is back this weekend! And are you an arts and post-it notes fan? Go to Giant Robot’s Post-It Show from Dec. 3rd to Dec. 11th. There are several events going on like La Virgen de Guadalupe, Dios Inantzin holiday and the Walt Disney Concert Hall Holiday Sing-Along. Check out the list here.

Wait! One More Thing...

CicLAvia Is Back And Traveling Through South LA

People ride down a street on bicycles with the DTLA skyline behind them
CicLAvia, an open streets event, returns to South L.A. on Sunday.
(Courtesy Farah Sosa)

If you want to hop on a set of wheels and cruise down Central Avenue without any cars, then this event is for you. Only people-powered vehicles allowed! You can walk, too – and even bring your pooch. The next CicLAvia is on Sunday, Dec. 4 starting at 9 a.m. All the details are here.

It started in 2010, but there was a pause during the pandemic. Ever since August 2021, CicLAvia has been back in action. It’s a great way to be healthy, get outside and enjoy clean air at least for a few hours.

And this time around, I am finally going to try it out myself. Most of the How To LA team will be there so stay tuned for our coverage next week in the newsletter and the podcast. It'll be a first for all of us so we’ll share back our experience connecting with the L.A. community and getting to know the neighborhood of South L.A.

Help Us Cover Your Community
  • Got something you’ve always wanted to know about Southern California and the people who call it home? Is there an issue you want us to cover? Ask us anything.

  • Have a tip about news on which we should dig deeper? Let us know.