Significant and unprotected exposure to airborne silica poses health risks and may cause severe health problems and even death
About 2.3 million workers are exposed to crystalline silica at their workplace. Exposure to silica causes a progressive lung disease called silicosis in which scar tissue develops in the lungs. This results in a reduced ability of the organism to absorb oxygen. Initially, symptoms such as severe cough, shortness of breath, chest pain, fatigue, and fever present. Depending on the dose and length of exposure to silica, various forms of silicosis may develop.
- Chronic silicosis: It is a result of low, frequent exposure and it takes 10-40 years for symptoms to develop.
- Accelerated silicosis: It is a result of increased exposure level, and symptoms appear within 5-10 years.
- Acute silicosis: This develops after extremely high levels of exposure over a short period of time, for example, during sandblasting. The symptoms develop within a few weeks.
Crystalline silica has been designated as a known human carcinogen by the WHO’s International Agency for Research on Cancer and the National Institutes of Health’s National Toxicology Program. Prolonged exposure to respirable crystalline silica increases a person’s risk of developing lung cancer. Crystalline silica exposure has also been linked to tuberculosis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and kidney disease.