Silica, or silicon dioxide (SiO2) is one of the most common naturally occurring elements on earth. Specifically, silica is composed of three minerals: cristobalite, tridymite, and quartz.1 It is found in a variety of materials including:2
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Other construction materials
Rocks- granite, marble, flint, slate, and some metallic ores
Hydraulic fracturing for gas and oil
Synthetic forms used in food, pharmaceuticals, electronics, and composites (including anything from tires to shoes)
Clearly, silica is an extremely common element. It is important to be aware of materials and products that contain silica, because when it is broken down, the particles become so minute they can be inhaled into the lungs. These inhaled particles are highly dangerous, and can cause lung cancer , silicosis, difficulty breathing, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). The broken-down particles are microscopic; thus you are not aware when or even how much you are being exposed to. Respirable crystalline silica is a known carcinogen .
Of the 2.3 million workers that are exposed to silica in the US, the construction industry has the greatest exposure by far, with 2 million workers being exposed to this hazard.2 While silica is not a danger when the particles are larger, exercise caution when working with these materials. There are a variety of different dust-producing activities performed on construction sites including sawing, jackhammering, grading, earth-moving, mining, crushing, sweeping, and milling. All of these activities produce respirable silica dust, that even with small exposures cause damage to the lungs, eventually leading to the diseases discussed earlier. It is pertinent that the amount of respirable silica dust be controlled, as to minimize worker exposure, thus heightening safety in the workplace.
1 Silicon dioxide. U.S. National Library of Medicine. https://pubchem.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/compound/24261. Publish date unavailable. Accessed June 25, 2019.
2 Cook, Lindsay and Gallion, Laurel. Respirable Crystalline Silica. Webinar presented at: Cisco Webex; May 9, 2019; online. http://bit.ly/2xfwUnl
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