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Crystalline Silica and Silicosis

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susan_harr6 years ago

Because of the nature of their jobs, industry workers are exposed to countless materials daily- some harmful, some not. Research indicates that one material potentially deadly to employees in an array of industries is sand, or more specifically- an industrial-use sand called crystalline silica.  

What is Crystalline Silica?

Crystalline silica is a carcinogen, found in soil, sand, granite, and many other minerals (quartz is the most common form.) When it is chipped, blasted, sanded, or grinded by workers, it becomes a fine dust that can be inhaled. Exposure to the lungs can lead to a deadly lung complication called Silicosis.

According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), silica exposure is a serious threat to nearly 2 million U.S. workers, including more than 100,000 workers in high risk jobs such as:

  • abrasive blasting
  • foundry work
  • stonecutting
  • rock drilling
  • quarry work
  • tunneling

Facts about Crystalline Silica

  • Crystalline silica was classified as a human lung carcinogen in 1988.
  • The respirable silica dust enters the lungs and causes the formation of scar tissue, and reduces lungs’ ability to take in oxygen (OSHA).
  • Breathing crystalline silica dust can cause silicosis, which in severe cases can be disabling, or even fatal (OSHA).
  • Since silicosis affects lung function, it makes one more susceptible to lung infections like tuberculosis (OSHA).
  • There is no cure for silicosis.
  • A study by the American Journal of Epidemiology indicated a link between high lung cancer rates and industrial sand workers exposed to crystalline silica

Silicosis Exposure Levels and Symptoms


  • Occurs after 15–20 years of moderate to low exposures of crystalline silica
  • Chest X-rays may be necessary to determine diagnosis
  • Early stage symptoms: shortness of breath upon exercising and clinical signs of poor oxygen/carbon dioxide exchange
  • Late stage symptoms:  fatigue, extreme shortness of breath, chest pain, or respiratory failure


  • Occurs after 5-10 years of high exposures of crystalline silica
  • Symptoms: severe shortness of breath, weakness, and weight loss


  • Occurs after a few months or as long as 2 years following exposures to extremely high concentrations of respirable crystalline silica
  • Symptoms: severe disabling shortness of breath, weakness, and weight loss, which often leads to death
At-Risk Occupations

Several groups of industry workers can be exposed to crystalline silica during different activities. According to OSHA, some of these industry occupations and activities include:

Maritime Industry

  • Shipyard employees are exposed to silica primarily in abrasive blasting operations to remove paint and clean and prepare steel hulls, bulkheads, decks, and tanks for paints and coatings

Construction Workers

  • Abrasive blasting with sand to remove paint and rust from bridges, tanks, concrete structures, and other surfaces
  • Jack hammering
  • Rock/well drilling
  • Concrete mixing
  • Concrete drilling
  • Brick and concrete block cutting and sawing
  • Tuck pointing
  • Tunneling operations

General Industry Workers

  • Abrasive blasting (which is done to clean and smooth irregularities from molds, jewelry, and foundry castings, finish tombstones, etch or frost glass, or remove paint, oils, rust, or dirt form objects needing to be repainted or treated)
  • Cement and brick manufacturing
  • Asphalt pavement manufacturing
  • Manufacturing household abrasives, adhesives, paints, soaps, and glass
  • China and ceramic manufacturing
  • Tool and die manufacturing
  • Steel manufacturing
  • Maintenance, repair and replacement of refractory brick furnace linings
Avoid Exposure- OSHA Tips for Employers and Employees
  • Replace crystalline silica materials with safer substitutes, whenever possible.
  • Provide engineering or administrative controls, where feasible, such as local exhaust ventilation, and blasting cabinets. Where necessary to reduce exposures below the PEL, use protective equipment or other protective measures.
  • Use all available work practices to control dust exposures, such as water sprays.
  • Wear only a N95 NIOSH certified respirator, if respirator protection is required. Do not alter the respirator. Do not wear a tight-fitting respirator with a beard or mustache that prevents a good seal between the respirator and the face.
  • Wear only a Type CE abrasive-blast supplied-air respirator for abrasive blasting.
  • Wear disposable or washable work clothes and shower if facilities are available. Vacuum the dust from your clothes or change into clean clothing before leaving the work site.
  • Participate in training, exposure monitoring, and health screening and surveillance programs to monitor any adverse health effects caused by crystalline silica exposures.
  • Be aware of the operations and job tasks creating crystalline silica exposures in your workplace environment and know how to protect yourself.
  • Be aware of the health hazards related to exposures to crystalline silica. Smoking adds to the lung damage caused by silica exposures.
  • Do not eat, drink, smoke, or apply cosmetics in areas where crystalline silica dust is present.
  • Wash your hands and face outside of dusty areas before performing any of these activities.
Contact an Experienced Workplace Accident Attorney

Thomas J. Henry fight to protect the rights of workplace accident victims. If you have been injured by a defective product or piece of equipment while on the job or if your employer has not put the safety of its employees first, choose Thomas J. Henry. The goal of our offices is to not only protect your rights, but to send a message to your employer so the same tragedy does not happen again. Contact our offices day or night, 24/7.


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