What is silicosis?
Silicosis is a disabling, non-reversible and sometimes fatal lung disease caused by overexposure to respirable crystalline silica. Silica is the second most common mineral in the Earth’s crust and is a major component of sand, rock and mineral ores. Overexposure to dust that contains microscopic particles of crystalline silica can cause scar tissue to form in the lungs which reduces the lung’s ability to extract oxygen from the air we breathe. Typical sand found at the beach does not pose a silicosis threat.
In addition to silicosis, inhalation of crystalline silica particles has been associated with other diseases, such as bronchitis and tuberculosis. Some studies also indicate an association with lung cancer.
There are three types of silicosis, depending upon the airborne concentration of crystalline silica to which a worker has been exposed:
• Chronic silicosis usually occurs after 10 or more years of overexposure.
• Accelerated silicosis results from higher exposures and develops over 5-10 years.
• Acute silicosis occurs where exposures are the highest and can cause symptoms to develop within a few weeks or up to 5 years.
How do I prevent exposures and control the dust?
Preventing the dust from becoming airborne is a good way to reduce exposure. Water can be used to suppress the dust and vacuums can be used to capture it at the source. When water or vacuums are not feasible, or if the exposure is still high even with these controls, a NIOSH approved respirator should be used; however, respirators won’t protect those working close by.
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