Reconstituted stone or engineered stone have some health and safety issues to solve. By the end of 2011 the reconstituted stone and engineered stone industry will have solved the serious health and safety issues. Truth is that everyone knows the dangers the Styrene and BTEX can pose to health, nevertheless in 2010 most manufacturers have either invested in equipment or have evaluated it's effects.
What is Styrene?
Styrene is a chemical which is one of the main components of polyester resin, actually most resin manufacturers use it as a solvent, and can represent 30-40% of the mass of polyester resin. It's very volatile and is used to manage the viscosity levels of the resin, in theory the smaller the grain used to make the engineered stone the less viscosity is needed in the resin. This means it has to be more liquid to guarantee an even spread through the whole mixture, this is done by adding more styrene to the polyester resin, in the production of resin the last phase is actually setting the viscosity index, and this is done by adding styrene.
What is BTEX?
BTEX is really benzene, toluene ethyl-benzene and xylene's, active components found in resin.
Why is styrene and BTEX health hazards?
People who are exposed to styrene in it's original form may suffer serious health hazards, namely affecting the central nervous system, headaches, dizziness, fatigue and difficulty in concentrating may be some symptoms. Styrene has been classified by the IARC (International Agency for Research on Cancer) as a potential human carcinogen.
BTEX as Styrene is also considered a potential human carcinogen.
The health hazard can be minimized if the levels of Styrene and BTEX are reduced, the acceptable levels are <50mg/kg for Styrene and <6mg/kg for BTEX
So how are manufacturers dealing with this potential health hazard?
Their are two ways to actually solve this problem, the first is use eco resin which has low levels of Styrene and BTEX, although the resin is much more expensive, it will increase product costs to the end user.
The other way is to buy equipment to extract the Styrene and BTEX from the product. Actually the manufacturers have two problems to solve, as the final product carries Styrene and BTEX, but also the sludge has the same components.
Technically at 55ºC Styrene will evaporate, so basically the manufacturing plants will need to install staging warehouses at 55ºC for slabs and blocks. In addition they'll need special equipment to retreat the hazardous chemicals from the air and give it the proper disposal, a block may need up to 30 hours, although a slab may take fewer hours, nevertheless it is a big investment moneywise and space.
Regarding chinese manufacturers, I figure they're behind in this matter, most of them are just adapting to CE markings, next they'll have to face the Styrene and BTEX issue to survive in International markets. Being that in general the Chinese manufacturing systems use more resin in the composition of the engineered stone, this problem is more serious for them currently.
A kitchen worktop should be durable and blend in with the design. Selecting your kitchen worktop is an important part of your kitchen design. A kitchen worktop in my honest opinion should be made of stone, either granite or a solid surface solution.Avoid marble as I have mentioned in prior posts it will give you problems, even with all the care and maintenance you are willing to do. It's just chemically and physically impossible for a marble to survive in such an aggressive environment.
So the solutions I suggest are just two granite or engineered stone. These products are resistant and beautiful and will give your kitchen a unique look, however each one has some special details which you should not overlook.
When you decide to buy granite you are basically buying a natural stone for your kitchen, this means it will need some basic care and maintenance. Other issues regarding your countertop may arise while buying of after installation of your granite worktop, so here are some issues you should look into:
- Check with the installer/manufacturer specific care and maintenance issues regarding the granite which you just bought. Granite absorbs water, their are granites that are more porous than some marbles, so make sure you know what type of product you bought so you can prevent damage
- Granite is normally cheaper than engineered stone, although some granite colours especially the exotic ones can be a bit expensive
- Granite is extracted from the quarries in blocks, the slabs are then cut out, the granite slab is normally a dimensional slab with dimensions above 3 m x 1,4 m. So make sure that your kitchen worktop is made from the least pieces as possible. You don't want a mosaic looking worktop if you paying top dollar for it.
- Granite as other natural stone have shade issues, shade issues can be caused by several factors: the slabs used to do your worktops did not belong to the same block; the slab had polishing problems therefore the shade difference is due to that; the worktop has been wet and absorbed water, giving and idea of a darker colour. The first two problems are due to low quality slab selection, which the manufacturer/installer should solve, the last one is a care and maintenance issue which you should take into account. The last one could pose as a bigger problem if you tile a floor and humidity is coming in from underneath, so you'll have a shade difference, this can be easily resolved using wet effect chemical agents, you should speak to the installer or manufacturer.
- Be careful with some cheap granite material which may appear to be a great deal. Some granites have iron ore in them and rust up, take a few minutes to look into the physical properties of the stone you just installed. I've come across some granite with this problem in the past.
Engineered Stone Worktop
I guess if you read my blog, engineered stone is one of my top issues, I really think it is a product you can use on kitchen worktops. It's durable and blends in nicely with design. The quantity of textures and colours available are a designers dream, you can easily just do something different and unique. However it's not a perfect product, like very other product it does need some care and maintenance.
The colours make this product different and interesting to use, you will not find too many mono colour textures in natural granite. Engineered stone will give you a wide variety of unique looking colours that will surprise you with the design options you'll have.
When buying or after installation these are some issues you should look into:
- Check your countertop to see if has quality, look at the polish make sure it's even, basically you'll notice shade differences if their is a polishing problem. Porous, check the surface make sure no micro porous exist.
- Underneath the counter most engineered stone manufactures mark the production details and the brand name you just bought. Take a few moments to look them up on the Internet, view their guarantee carefully. And don't forget to check their care and maintenance issues.
- The engineered stone slab is commonly 3 m x 1,4 m, although you can find bigger ones from some producers, make sure you're kitchen worktop is made up with the minimum number of pieces, as I said before avoid mosaic looking worktops, remember you are paying top dollars for your worktop
- Using engineered stone as kitchen worktops has some inconveniences, make sure you know what you are getting into. For example: avoid putting a hot pot or pan directly in contact with your engineered stone as it'll damage the surface.