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What we're working on right now in the Division of Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences. Feburary 2020.

Silicosis Among Artificial Stone Fabrication Workers
Image source: National Jewish Health Center of Excellence for Silicosis and its Prevention. https://www.nationaljewish.org/directory/center-of-excellence-for-silicosis-and-its-prevention-program 

Silicosis is an irreversible, progressive lung disease caused by the inhalation of respirable crystalline silica dust. Silica dust particles cause inflammation and scarring in the lungs and make breathing more difficult. In addition to silicosis, inhalation of respirable crystalline silica may cause lung cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, kidney disease, infections such as tuberculosis, and autoimmune diseases.1

Because silica is commonly found in stone, workers who cut, polish, or grind stone are at risk of inhaling crystalline silica dust. Artificial stone, a manufactured composite material used primarily for kitchen and bathroom countertops, typically contains >90% crystalline silica, compared to granite which contains <45% silica. Dry polishing, cutting and grinding artificial stone produces very high concentrations of respirable crystalline silica, often in gross exceedance of federal regulatory limits.2

As the popularity of artificial stone has increased over the past ten years, so too have the number of severe silicosis cases among workers who fabricate and process this material. Since 2009, there have been over 500 cases of artificial stone (AS) silicosis reported from Australia,3 Belgium, Canada, China,4 Israel,5 Italy,6 Spain,7 and the U.S.8 Alarmingly, most of the cases have occurred in young individuals after relatively short exposures. Many have progressive massive fibrosis, the most advanced form of silicosis, and several individuals have undergone lung transplantation.

There are striking commonalities among the cases. Chief among them are reports of poor implementation of dust controls, respiratory protection use, and education about the hazards of respirable crystalline silica. Another commonality among these cases is that they tend to be young and members of immigrant or ethnic minority groups. These populations are among the most vulnerable to workplace hazards due to limited employment options, fear of losing their jobs if they report workplace hazards, and reduced access to medical treatment.

Researchers from the Division of Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences at the University of Illinois at Chicago School of Public Health are coordinating a comprehensive literature review and a large, international case series of AS silicosis in an effort to improve our understanding of issues including exposure levels, disease diagnosis and treatment, and rates of disease progression. Additionally, Dr. Cohen, Clinical Professor in EOHS, serves as a consultant to the Queensland state government in Australia regarding the design and implementation of its medical screening program of artificial stone workers.


  1. Leung CC, Yu ITS, Chen W. Silicosis. Lancet Lond Engl. 2012;379(9830):2008-2018. doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(12)60235-9
  2. Occupational Safety and Health Administration; National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. Hazard alert: worker exposure to silica during countertop manufacturing, finishing, and installation. 2015. https://www.osha.gov/Publications/OSHA3768.pdf.
  3. Hoy RF, Baird T, Hammerschlag G, et al. Artificial stone-associated silicosis: a rapidly emerging occupational lung disease. Occup Environ Med. 2018;75(1):3-5. doi:10.1136/oemed-2017-104428
  4. Mao L, Zhou S, Chen Z, Shi J, Bian L, Wen J, Sun D. Investigation of clinical features and working environment of silicosis patients caused by agglomerated quartz stone processing dust. J Environ Occup Med. 2019;36(8):744-749.
  5. Kramer MR, Blanc PD, Fireman E, et al. Artificial stone silicosis: disease resurgence among artificial stone workers. Chest. 2012;142(2):419. doi:10.1378/chest.11-1321
  6. Martínez C, Prieto A, García L, Quero A, González S, Casan P. Silicosis: a Disease with an Active Present. Arch Bronconeumol Engl Ed. 2010;46(2):97-100. doi:10.1016/S1579-2129(10)70022-7
  7. Pérez-Alonso A, Córdoba-Doña JA, Millares-Lorenzo JL, Figueroa-Murillo E, García-Vadillo C, Romero-Morillos J. Outbreak of silicosis in Spanish quartz conglomerate workers. Int J Occup Environ Health. 2014;20(1):26-32. doi:10.1179/2049396713Y.0000000049
  8. Rose C, Heinzerling A, Patel K, et al. Severe Silicosis in Engineered Stone Fabrication Workers - California, Colorado, Texas, and Washington, 2017-2019. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2019;68(38):813-818. doi:10.15585/mmwr.mm6838a1

Will Cejtin successfully defended his thesis! Titled “Characterization of Dermal Exposure as a Result of Glove Penetration” Congrats Will!

Jessica Madrigal successfully defended her dissertation research! Titled “Relationship among Exposure to Environmental Pollutants, Endogenous Hormones, and Kidney Disease Risk” Congrats Jessica!

EOHS recently posted job opening announcements for two tenure track positions. Please help us by sharing these openings with people in your networks. For fullest consideration applicants should submit and application by 2/14/2020.

Open Rank Professor- Climate and Health


Assistant Professor- Occupational Safety and/or Industrial Hygiene



Han, X. Meng, L., Xu, Y., Zhangd, F., Li, Y.,*, Li, A., Turyk, M.E.,  Yang, R., Wang,P., Zhang, J., Zhang,Q., Jiang, G. Exposure to organochlorine pesticides and the risk of type 2 diabetes in the population of East China. Ecotoxicology and Environmental Safety, 190, 110125, 2020.

Huang Z, Friedman LS.  Occupational injury surveillance pyramid description and association of medical care utilization with low income among work-related injuries.  Am J Ind Med. 2019 Nov 26. doi: 10.1002/ajim.23075. [Epub ahead of print]

Madigan D, Forst L, Friedman LS.  Comparison of State Hospital Visits With Housing and Urban Development Estimates of Homeless: Illinois, 2011-2018.  Am J Public Health. 2020 Jan 16:e1-e3. doi: 10.2105/AJPH.2019.305492. [Epub ahead of print]

Madigan D, Johnson TP, Forst L, Cambron JA, Zanoni J, Patil CL, Conroy LM, Friedman LS. Needs Assessment for a Comprehensive Reemployment Program Among Residents of a Work Rehabilitation Program for Individuals With Unstable or Lack of Housing.  J Occup Environ Med. 2020 Feb;62(2):163-170. doi: 10.1097/JOM.0000000000001794.

Mabila SL, Almberg KS, Friedman L, Cohen RA, Ndlovu N, Vorajee N, Murray J.  Effects of commodity on the risk of emphysema in South African miners.  Int Arch Occup Environ Health. 2019 Nov 7. doi: 10.1007/s00420-019-01483-8. [Epub ahead of print]

Pediatric environmental health specialty published a community guide titled “Investigating Environmental Contamination: A Guide for Communities”


The MinER Center led a training webinar for a patient-level data collection tool that they developed for the Black Lung Center of Excellence.

Lorraine Conroy presented “Precarious Work and Total Worker Health” at Healthy Work Design and Well-Being NORA Cross-Sector Council on January 23, 2020


Events and Reminders

Presenter: Mahim Saxena, PhD, MS, Assistant Professor at Illinois Institute of Technology
Presentation Description: Mahima Saxena, Industrial-Organizational Psychologist at Illinois Institute of Technology, will be presenting her research around the nature and consequences of job-burnout for workers, the nature of emotions at work, and the consequences of attention failure for work-performance.
Event: Hosted by the UIC Center for Healthy Work in collaboration with the Illinois Education and Research Center
Date/Time: February 12, 2020, 12:00 pm – 1:00 pm (in-person only; recorded for later viewing)

Presentation Title: Work and Health
Participant: Christina Welter, DrPH, MPH
Event: APHA, Kaiser Permanente, and AcademyHealth Policy Leadership Summit
Date/Time: February 13, 2020

Presentation Title: Healthy Work Collaborative: Advancing Total Worker Health® through Cross-Sector Partnerships
Presenter: Christina Welter, DrPH, MPH
Event: NORA Services Sector Council Webinar
Date/Time: February 25, 2020, 12:00 pm – 1:00 pm

Presentation Title: Keynote Address: Improving Health for Workers Employed in Precarious Jobs
Presenter: Christina Welter, DrPH, MPH Elizabeth Fisher, CHES
Conference: Wisconsin Workplace Health Symposium, Milwaukee, WI
Date/Time: March 10, 2019, 8:20 am – 9:15 am

Presentation Title: All in a Day’s Work Demonstration
Presenter: Christina Welter, DrPH, MPH Elizabeth Fisher, CHES
Conference: Wisconsin Workplace Health Symposium, Milwaukee, WI
Date/Time:  March 10, 2019, 9:55 am – 10:20 am

Presenter: Paul Landsbergis PhD, MPH, Peter Schnall, MD, MPH, and Marnie Dobson, PhD, Healthy Work Campaign
Presentation Description: Paul Landsbergis, Peter Schnall and Marnie Dobson will discuss the Healthy Work Campaign, the Stress Assess survey (and the new US version of it), and case studies of interventions to reduce sources of stress at work.
Event: Hosted by the UIC Center for Healthy Work in collaboration with the Illinois Education and Research Center
Date/Time: March 18, 2020, 12:00 pm – 1:00 pm (in-person only; recorded for later viewing)

Presentation Title: Keynote: Addressing Precarious Work through Participatory Action Research
Presenter: Lorraine Conroy, ScD
Event: Heartland Education and Research Center Annual Student Occupational Health and Safety Symposium
Date/Time: April 3, 2020

Next Month

In our March newsletter the Center for Healty Work will discuss precarious employment and Total Worker Health.


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