More action needs to be taken to reduce the risk of illnesses and deaths caused by workplace exposure to silica dust, according to a new study published in CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians. Millions of Americans are at risk of developing silicosis or other illnesses caused by silica because they are exposed to the harmful dust on the job.
Many of these workers at risk of silica exposure come from the fracking industry, which uses large volumes of silica sand in order extract oil or natural gas from the ground through drilling. This drilling process causes dust from the silica sand to become airborne, which can lead to conditions in which workers are exposed to levels of silica dust far higher than federal safety standards.
Although decades of safety regulations have helped to reduce the number of deaths from silicosis and other silica-related illnesses, researchers say that more steps need to be taken in order to prevent workers from developing these diseases.
Steps recommended in the study include strengthening safety regulations regarding silica, increasing awareness about the hazards of silica exposure, prevention measures to stop exposure from occurring, and stronger efforts to detect diseases such as silicosis and lung cancer in their early stages.
Researchers found that silica exposure levels were highest in the construction industry, where the use of materials such as concrete, masonry, tile, and rock can lead to unsafe levels of airborne silica dust. Hundreds of thousands of workers are also exposed to silica dust through jobs that involve foundry work, sandblasting, and the manufacturing of brick, concrete, or pottery.