AGTA Debuts Project to Fight Silicosis Among Gemstone Cutters

Cases of the deadly disease, caused by the inhalation of silica dust, have been on the rise

The American Gem Trade Association (AGTA) will work to combat the rise of silicosis, the debilitating and fatal disease that results from inhalation of silica dust, which is released during the fashioning of gem materials containing silica.

“Workplace silicosis is not unique to the jewelry industry,” said AGTA CEO Douglas Hucker in a statement. “It is prevalent in hard-rock mining, fracking, and particularly pernicious within the construction industries. In our industry it has been a growing problem in gemstone-cutting centers, particularly in countries where there is a lack of reliable power and availability of technology that is effective in reducing workers’ exposure to airborne silica.”

Concerned with the rising prevelance of the disease, AGTA president Jeffrey Bilgore appointed AGTA vice president Bruce Bridges to lead a six-month study to evaluate how the AGTA should respond. Bridges conducted the study and, upon completion, presented a project proposal to the board of directors, who voted unanimously to proceed.

The AGTA will fund abatement equipment in cutting factories and, with the assistance and expertise of several nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), develop and refine educational materials to support the use of the equipment.

“We have approached our friends in both the International Colored Gemstone Association (ICA) and the Indian Diamond and Colorstone Association (IDCA), and they are in full support of and will be cooperating with us in our efforts,” said Bilgore. “No one can force a solution to a long-standing health concern. We are committed to working together. It will take education, equipment, and all of our efforts to help educate and address this.”

“Throughout the process, our colleagues at the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration advised us on the feasibility of our plan as it came together,” Bridges said. “Drawing on the assistance of the committed volunteers at several NGO’s, notably Workplace Without Borders, we were able to blend our expertise with their experience in working with artisanal communities in Africa, China, and India, to envision a workable plan for attacking this problem,” he continued.

Initial funding has been secured, and a pilot project is planned for select facilities in India.

More information about the project, including how to provide support, is available at info@agta.org.