Free crystalline silica, is one of the most common minerals in the earth's crust. It is found in sand, many rocks such as granite, sandstone, flint and slate, and in some coal and metallic ores. The three most common forms are quartz, tridymite and cristobalite.
Silica from occupational sources is a major danger.
When workers inhale the crystalline dust, it may begin a process that results full blown silicosis. It will often take nearly 20 of exposure, but silica that has been inhaled into the lung, collects and causes inflammation. The body reacts and the parts of create fibrotic nodules around the trapped silica particles. As these hard nodules grow and collect together, breathing becomes very difficult.
The most common from of the disease, chronic silicosis can take 20 to 40 years to develop, but much shorter exposures at higher concentrations can result more deadly types of the disease. Acute silicosis, can occur after a single heavy dose or brief exposures to very high concentration of silica dust.
Often workers will recall being blanketed with dust while working at a particular job or cutting through something. they recall dust so thick they couldn't see. These are very dangerous environments.
Several years ago then-secretary of Labor Robert B. Reich began a national public education campaign, If It's Silica, It's Not Just Dust, to prevent Silicosis in US workers.
He stated "We are continuing to make significant progress in fighting this disease. But in 1996, there is no reason at all for any workers to suffer from silicosis," said Reich. "When we get the word out to all workers and employers on how to control silica dust, lives will be saved."
Joining Reich in today's announcement were silicosis victims and their families who came to Washington to tell their stories. They included:
J.T. Knuckles, a 56-year old foundry worker from Saginaw, Michigan, now disabled from silicosis.
Charlene and Kimberly Howard, the wife and daughter of a rock driller from Hulen, Kentucky, who died of silicosis at the age of 46.
Alfred Munzer, M.D., of the American Lung Association, described some of the most serious effects of being overexposed to silica dust. "Silicosis is an insidious, debilitating lung disease that robs people of their breath and eventually limits their mobility and makes them dependent on supplemental oxygen," said Munzer. "Cigarette smoking only aggravates the effects of silica dust and worsens a patient's condition."
Some tips for preventing silicosis include:
-- Monitor dust levels in the air and take corrective action if needed.
-- Install and maintain engineering controls to reduce silica dust.
-- Use water hoses, vacuums, or wet-sweeping, rather than blowing dust with compressed air or dry sweeping.
-- Train workers about health effects of silica dust and good work practices that reduce dust.
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