Juan Gonzalez Morin, 37, died of silicosis in April after cutting and grinding artificial-stone countertops for eight years. Credit: Trevor Stamp.

A collaborative investigation by Public Health Watch and KPCC into a deadly workplace epidemic won a top honor Sunday in the Southern California Journalism Awards, sponsored by the Los Angeles Press Club.

The story, published and aired in December, disclosed a cluster of the incurable lung disease silicosis among fabricators of artificial-stone countertops. Jim Morris, editor-in-chief of Public Health Watch, and Leslie Berestein Rojas, a reporter with KPCC, won first place in the Press Club’s audio journalism/investigative category for the collaboration, which included a television segment on Univision’s news magazine show Aqui y Ahora.

“In great detail and including heartbreaking interviews, the story reveals a little-known risk to vulnerable workers who help craft synthetic stone countertops,” contest judges wrote.

The investigation has had a significant impact. In May, Public Health Watch reported that workplace regulators in California were drafting an emergency rule to address the silicosis epidemic. This month, Public Health Watch reported that the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors had passed a resolution that could lead to a countywide ban on artificial-stone products.

The products are rich with silica, a mineral that is pulverized and sent airborne by cutting or grinding. The fine powder enters the lungs and causes scarring, which can slowly suffocate the victim.