Silica dust exposure is a serious threat to workers. When silica dust enters the lungs it scratches the surface of tissue in the respiratory system, leading to scarring that blocks the absorption of oxygen. This causes irreversible damage to lungs that, in the end, can be fatal.
Today, silica dust remains a serious threat to nearly two million U.S. workers. Those most affected by silica dust work in high risk jobs that involve abrasive blasting, tunneling or quarry work.
What is crystalline silica?
Crystalline silica is a basic component of sand, granite, soil, and many other minerals. The most common form of crystalline silica is quartz. Tridymite and cristobalite are the two other forms of crystalline silica. All three forms can be broken down into respirable particles when workers drill, cut, grind or chip objects that contain crystalline silica. The small particles that result from processes such as drilling, cutting and grinding can lead to many diseases that have debilitating effects on the lungs.
What are the hazards of crystalline silica?
The serious health hazards associated with silica dust exposure are shown by the fatalities and disabling illnesses that result.
- Many fatalities and disabling illnesses are seen in the sandblasting and rock drilling industries due to silica dust exposure.
- Inhaling crystalline silica dust can cause the lung disease Silicosis.
- When inhaled, respirable silica dust enters the lungs and causes the formation of scar tissue, which reduces the lungs’ ability to take in oxygen. Since silicosis affects lung function, it makes the person more susceptible to lung infections like tuberculosis.
- Crystalline silica has been classified as a human lung carcinogen.
Where are general industry employees exposed to crystalline silica dust?
Crystalline silica is used in manufacturing and can be found in adhesives, household abrasives, soaps, paints, and glass. Additionally, crystalline silica exposure can occur during the maintenance, repair and replacement of refractory brick furnace linings. Exposure can also occur during processes used to smooth and clean irregularities from jewelry, molds, finish tombstones, and foundry castings, frost glass, or from the removal of oils, rust, dirt, or paint. Other exposures to silica dust occur in the asphalt pavement manufacturing; brick and cement manufacturing; china and ceramic manufacturing; and the tool, die, steel and foundry industries.The most severe exposure to crystalline silica results from work that includes abrasive blasting.
Fast Facts: The Dangers of Crystalline Silica
In the United States, it is estimated that up to two million workers have had occupational exposure to crystalline silica dust and 59,000 of these workers will develop silicosis sometime in the course of their lives.
In 1930, an epidemic of silicosis broke out due to the construction of the Hawk’s Nest Tunnel near Gauley Bridge, West Virginia. The epidemic resulted in the death of at least 400 workers.