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Fracking and Silicosis

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) has warned that workers employed in a type of natural gas drilling known as hydraulic fracturing (or “fracking”) may be at risk of developing silicosis or other respiratory diseases as a result of airborne dust that is created during the fracking process.

Fracking involves the use of highly pressurized drilling techniques in order to extract natural gas from rock. After an oil or natural gas well is drilled, a pressurized mixture of water, chemicals, and sand is pumped deep below the earth’s surface in order to create fractures in the rock. Sand is also pumped into these wells in order to hold open the tiny fissures that are created during the drilling, which allows oil or natural gas to escape from the rock.

The sand that is used at fracking sites is typically 99% silica. When this sand is unloaded off of trucks or transferred between machinery, it can become airborne. This increases the likelihood that workers may inhale airborne silica dust, which can put them at risk of developing silicosis or other respiratory diseases.

Air samples collected by NIOSH at fracking sites in Arkansas, Colorado, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, and Texas found that airborne levels of silica dust exceeded the agency’s maximum exposure limit in nearly 80% of cases. Despite the health risk that this poses for workers, many fracking employees were not provided with respiratory equipment or other safety gear to reduce their risk of developing silicosis.

Fracking Sites Create Silicosis Dangers for Workers

A NIOSH warning has identified seven sites in the fracking process where workers may be exposed to airborne silica dust:

  • Dust created during refilling operations that is pulsed and ejected through open side fill ports on the sand movers
  • Dust ejected from thief hatches (access ports) on top of the sand movers while the machines are running (hot loading) during refilling operations
  • Dust created by vehicle traffic at the fracking site
  • Dust released from the transfer belt under the sand movers
  • Dust created from sand used on the blender hopper or on transfer belts
  • Dust released between the sand mover and the blender from transfer belts
  • Dust released from on sand movers on the top of the sand transfer belt (dragon’s tail)

Silicosis usually develops 20 years or more after an individual has been exposed to silica dust in the workplace. However, the NIOSH reports that airborne levels of silica dust are so high at some fracking sites that workers may develop silicosis symptoms after only 5-10 years on the job.

Diagnosed With Silicosis? You May Qualify to File a Lawsuit.

If you or a loved one worked at or lived in the area of a fracking site and have been diagnosed with silicosis or other respiratory diseases, you may be eligible to file a lawsuit. For a free legal consultation, contact the lawyers at Heygood, Orr & Pearson to find out if you qualify to file a case. You can reach us by calling our toll-free hotline at 1-877-446-9001, or by filling out the free case evaluation form located on this page.