Dangerous Dust


May 19, 2015 / Personal Injury

Dust seems harmless, doesn’t it? Everyone breathes in dust every day. We joke about having dusty homes. And yet, dust that contains respirable crystalline silica can cause irreversible, chronic, and even fatal illnesses.

Exposure to crystalline silica kills more than 250 U.S. citizens each year from silicosis alone, and approximately one million workers are exposed to crystalline silica.

Workers in the construction and mining industries, as well as those who work in sandblasting, stonecutting, and even landscaping are among those at risk.

Those who work at hydraulic fracturing (fracking) sites, or especially in frac sand mining, or who live near such mines, also face the potential of future illnesses. In Indiana, the risks from fracking and frac sand mining are small; the dangers are >mainly occupational.

Crystalline Silica Doesn’t Sound Scary

The second most common mineral found in the earth’s upper layers, silica is most commonly found in sand, rock, and certain mineral ores. The sand typically found at the beach does not pose a hazard, nor does the sand in your child’s sandbox. Instead, it is the microscopic particles that come about in the process of certain work, and repeated exposure over time, that cause the damage.

Repeated exposure to crystalline silica increases your chance of developing an incurable lung disease that can be fatal. The Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) have indicated that breathing silica can cause the following health problems:

  • Silicosis
  • Bronchitis
  • Tuberculosis
  • Lung cancer
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
  • Kidney disease
  • Autoimmune diseases.

Focus on Silicosis

The major illness associated with exposure to crystalline silica is silicosis, which causes fibrosis, or an irreversible scarring, of the lungs. Disabling and often fatal, this occupational disease is the oldest one known to humanity. Depending on the concentration of silica in the air breathed by the worker, one of three types of silicosis can occur:

  • Chronic silicosis, which takes ten or more years to develop
  • Accelerated silicosis, which happens in a five- to ten-year span and results from a higher level of exposure than does chronic silicosis
  • Acute silicosis, which can bring on symptoms after as little as a few weeks of the highest exposure.

Early Symptoms of Silicosis

  • Shortness of breath (dyspnea), especially when exercising
  • Harsh, dry cough
  • Cyanosis (bluish tinge to the skin) around the lips and ear lobes
  • Fatigue
  • Fever.

Later Symptoms of Silicosis

  • Coughing up blood
  • Extreme shortness of breath and difficulty breathing
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Loss of appetite
  • Chest pain.

Only a doctor can correctly diagnose silicosis.

Prevention: The Best Course

The recommendation from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) is to have a medical exam before you enter a trade where you will be at risk for silica exposure. You should also be re-examined at least every three years after that.

Government regulations are clear about the responsibilities of employers to protect employees from crystalline silica overexposure. But you can also do things to help prevent yourself from developing silicosis:

  • Practice good work habits to minimize your exposure to dust, such as using water or a vacuum to remove excess particles rather than blowing them away.
  • Always wear the appropriate respirator and protective gear, especially when working directly with crystalline silica, such as during sandblasting.
  • Take part in all air monitoring, medical examination, and training whenever they are offered to you.

Trusted Advisors. Proven Advocates.

In Indiana, the risk of silicosis is most acute for those in construction and related trades. If you or a loved one believes you have a silicosis case in Indiana and you would like to explore your options, put Mike Stephenson and his team to work for you. At Stephenson Rife, we believe justice matters. A free consultation is just a phone call away – dial 1-317-825-5200.

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