Not so many years ago, silica sand was not sought after by oil and gas companies. And the term “fracking” was not widely known.
But then the oil industry perfected the process of forcing silica sand and water into cracks in the earth in order to bring up oil. This process fractures shale and other rock formations, enabling oil and gas wells to flow into wells.
As a result, hydraulic fracturing is booming in Pennsylvania and across the country, and silica sand is a hot commodity. But what about the health risks of exposure to silica sand?
The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) is concerned about silica exposure as a health hazard to workers in the fracking industry. Studies by NIOSH have shown that workers may be exposed to excessive levels of dust containing silica.
The more formal term for this dust is respirable crystalline silica. In plain terms, it is silica dust.
The reason exposure to silica dust is a health concern is that breathing in too much silica can cause a lung disease called silicosis. Tissue that adjoins trapped particles of silica in the lungs reacts negatively to the silica. The effect is to reduce the ability of the lungs to take in oxygen.
Silica exposure can also lead to lung cancer and has been linked to other serious diseases, including kidney and auto-immune disorders.
Remember, as a worker you have the right to work in a setting that does not pose serious harm to your health and safety. And if you have been harmed, the workers’ compensation system exists to take care of injured workers.
The threat of harm is real. Chronic silicosis can take years to develop, but it often involves serious lung damage. Acute silicosis can occur after just a few months of excessive silica exposure.
Source: “Hazard Alert: Worker Exposure to Silica during Hydraulic Fracturing,” OSHA.gov
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