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Study warns of high levels of silica sand at fracking oil and natural gas drilling sites

A study published in July by the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Hygiene (JOEH) has found that workers at hydraulic fracturing sites across the country are at risk of silicosis and other illnesses due to exposure to airborne silica sand. The JOEH study was based on research conducted by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), which was published last year.

The JOEH study examined levels of exposure to silica sand at 11 hydraulic fracturing—or “fracking” – sites in Arkansas, Colorado, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, and Texas, collecting more than 100 air samples at the sites. At all 11 sites, researcher collected air samples that exceeded federal safety limits for exposure to airborne silica. More than three-quarters of the samples exceeded NIOSH recommended levels, including 31% that were 10-times or more higher than the NIOSH limits.

Fracking workers who are exposed to airborne silica are at risk of developing silicosis, lung cancer, or other respiratory diseases. OSHA warnings about silica exposure have also found a link between inhaling silica and an increased risk of tuberculosis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, kidney disease, and autoimmune disease.

Despite these warnings about the danger of breathing in silica sand at fracking sites, many drilling companies have failed to provide their workers with respirators or other adequate safety equipment that could protect them against the dangers of silica exposure. Workers who were exposed to silica sand at a fracking site and who have developed silicosis, lung cancer, or other illnesses may be eligible to file a lawsuit against the parties responsible for their illness.