Australia is set to ban imports of Caesarstone, an engineered household countertop material developed in Israel that has been linked to increased incidence of silicosis, an irreversible lung disease, in those who work the material.
Silicosis can be contracted by inhaling silica dust particles produced during construction, such as dry cutting the material, a typical method for kitchen and bathroom countertops.
On Tuesday, ministers responsible for workplace health and safety across the island nation unanimously agreed to kickstart plans to temporarily ban imports of the product.
“The number of Australians with silicosis keeps rising,” Federal Workplace Relations Minister Tony Burke told local radio. “This is part of the cause. If you could easily regulate it, you wouldn’t be considering a ban at all.”
Australia would be the first country to ban the product, though New Zealand has indicated it is eyeing a similar move.
The decision comes after a powerful local construction union threatened to independently ban the use, manufacture and import of the stone by July 2024, if the government did not step in.
Australian imports of the material, considered a cheaper alternative to marble and granite, represent 18 percent of Caesarstone’s revenue, or $116 million, Calcalist, an Israeli business daily, reported.
Responding to Australian plans to ban its products, Caesarstone, which is headquartered in the Israeli coastal city of Caesarea, told Calcalist that “it apologizes to anyone harmed” while working with the material, and expressed its commitment to disease prevention.
In Australia, more than 70 cases of construction workers with silicosis were suing their employers over the workplace hazard, and a further 275,000 were said to be at risk, according to a study from Curtin University.
As of December 2021, Caesarstone was involved in 38 lawsuits in Australia brought by those who contracted silicosis, the company’s annual report for that year said.
The company has previously argued that if used correctly, its product is not dangerous.