NIOSH: Silica Still a Threat, Kills 100 Per Year

August 12, 2015

A Science Blog post from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) reported on by the website says new data show that silicosis continues to cause or contribute to the deaths of approximately 100 Americans every year.

Silicosis is a potentially fatal occupational lung disease caused by inhaling particles containing crystalline silicon dioxide (silica). Quartz, a type of crystalline silica, is the second most prevalent mineral in the earth’s crust, and workers across a wide range of occupations and industries are exposed to silica-containing dusts. Occupations with known high silica exposure include mining, quarrying, sandblasting, rock drilling, road construction, pottery making, stone masonry, and tunneling operations. New situations for occupational exposure to respirable crystalline silica continue to be revealed: Hazardous silica exposures have been documented in the U.S. during fracking for gas and oil wells and during fabrication and installation of engineered stone countertops.

The most common form of silicosis, chronic silicosis, takes at least 10 years from first exposure to develop, and death does not typically occur until many years after that, NIOSH says. From 2011-2013, 12 people younger than 45 years of age had silicosis listed as causing or contributing to death. Although the details of their cases are unknown, NIOSH says this is concerning because silicosis deaths in these young adults may reflect higher exposures than those causing chronic silicosis deaths in older individuals.