A new study conducted by the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) has found that levels of exposure to airborne silica dust at fracking drilling sites may increase the risk of respiratory diseases among workers. Inhaling silica dust has been linked to an increased risk of lung cancer and silicosis.
Researchers from NIOSH visited 11 hydraulic fracturing—or “fracking” sites—across five states: Texas, Arkansas, Colorado, North Dakota, and Pennsylvania. The scientists measured levels of airborne silica dust and examined the safety practices at these sites to determine if they were adequate to protect workers from respiratory disease.
The study found that airborne levels of silica dust exceeded safety standards set by NIOSH in nearly 80% of cases. More alarmingly, researchers found that although many workers were given respirators in order to protect them from the ill effects of silica, in many cases the type of respirators that were used were not sufficient to protect workers from the levels of silica dust to while they were exposed.
Scientists have found that due to the high levels of airborne silica that are created during the fracking process, workers at these sites may become sick at an alarming rate. Although it usually takes at least 20 years after exposure to silica before individuals develop silicosis, some workers at fracking sites are developing the disease in as little as five years due to the high volume of silica to which they were exposed.
Some workers who developed silicosis or lung cancer after working at fracking sites have already filed lawsuits against the oil or natural gas companies who ran these operations. The lung cancer and silicosis lawsuits filed by these workers have accused the oil and natural gas companies of failing to provide adequate safety equipment that would have prevented them from becoming seriously ill as a result of exposure to silica.