Do I need to have containment and silica dust control when I remove my tile counter top?


Here in California, my 1978 counter-top consists of 6" tiles on a 3/4" mortar bed (w/metal mesh) sitting on tar paper on wooden boards. I would like to replace the cabinets, keeping the same design, and install a new quartz counter-top. I found that removing the tiles and crumbly mortar with a hammer and screw driver is do-able, but that the dust irritates my eyes. Now I am wondering if the dust contains the same silica produced by electric saws, drills and grinders, and if the amount is enough to be concerned about. I am contemplating doing the following:
(1) keep the mortar continuously wet with two Windex spray bottles,
(2) wear a full-face 3M respirator with P100 filters,
(3) hang 3.5 mil Home Depot plastic around my kitchen (using 1x2 boards),
(4) direct a fan out the window,
(5) rent an air scrubber from Sunbelt Rentals for $200/week.
Would any or all of this be a good idea or am I being paranoid? Thank you for your thoughts.


ANSWER - Last year OSHA issued rules to limit workers' exposure to respirable crystalline silica.  The rule that went into effect on June 23, 2016 cuts the respirable silica PEL from 100ug/m3 for an 8-hour time weighted average to 50 ug/m3.  If a work is going to be exposed to silica for 4 hours then they need to wear an APF 10 rated respirator.  There is silica sand in tile grout, thin-sets and mortars.

Tile and stone industries are trying to get this OSHA ruling revised to be more reasonable.  First of all it is difficult to measure exposure, and second of all it seems unlikely that the amount of exposure that installers are subjected to is considered unhealthy.

It is always wise to control dust for both health reasons and for cleanliness reasons.  Installers typically use a wet/dry vacuum to collect the dust as they cut through concrete or mortar.  They will wet down the mortar to control dust.  They might put up some sheets of plastic containment to control the dust.  They also wear at least a standard disposable dust mask.  It would be better to use at least an APF 10 disposable N95 Industrial Respirator with Valve face mask that filters 95% of all particles like the 3M 8300 Series of disposable face mask respirators.

To control dust at a higher level you can build a portable containment barrier with a HEPA air filtration system, wear protective suites and full face mask filters.  But that is normally used where they are mitigating microbial growth or or asbestos contaminates.

4 thoughts on “Do I need to have containment and silica dust control when I remove my tile counter top?

  1. telly says:

    What if the contractor worked in our home and cut granite inside our home all day? did not cover ANYTHING. my 4-year-old son and I were upstairs and I did not know what was happening down there until he left. We went downstairs to find the entire downstairs covered with thick dust that I later found out it was silica. It stayed with us for 3 days… we vacuumed but did not clean beyond that since we figured he was going to be back the next day to work on it some more. today they are cleaning it up with vacuum cleaners which I now know its even worse.

    • Donato Pompo says:

      Professional installers should be providing some level of protection against dust for themselves as well as in the surrounds of the home they are working in. Often the cutting is done outside, but there are cases where it is necessary to cut inside. Depending on the environment there are different levels of projection that can be provided from using enclosed tents with HEPA vacuums to just using a dustless tool and using a wet sponge adjacent to the cutting blade to minimize the dust. It is only when the silica is airborne that it can be breathed. There are OSHA standards for what is an acceptable level of silica generated in the products being used as it is unavoidable.

  2. Blanche Duncan says:

    My landlord hire contractor remove tile from living room and hall way. He did not cover anything. Dust was every where. Cloths and furniture. This was done on saturday. I had to stay inside until monday

    • Donato Pompo says:

      don’t ever assume the work will be done correctly. Always verify and observe to catch the problem before it becomes a big problem.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *