Silicosis is a lung disease caused by crystalline silica exposure. Breathing in silica particles causes scar tissue to form in the lungs in a process known as fibrosis. This scar tissue reduces the lungs’ ability to extract oxygen from the air and weakens the oxygen/carbon dioxide exchange that occurs during regular breathing. Inhaling crystalline silica is also linked to elevated rates of lung cancer.
What Is Crystalline Silica?
Crystalline silica is found in soil, sand, granite, quartz, and many other minerals. It becomes respirable when workers drill, chip, cut, or grind materials that contain crystalline silica, such as concrete, brick, or mortar. Particles of crystalline silica are typically inhaled with dust, known as “quartz dust.”
Who Is At Risk?
Occupational and industrial workers have the highest risk of exposure to crystalline silica. Nearly 2 million U.S. workers come into contact with quartz dust throughout their jobs. This figure includes more than 100,000 workers whose responsibilities include blasting, drilling, stonecutting, quarry work, tunneling, and other tasks that increase exposure to crystalline silica.
Silicosis is not treatable and can make workers more susceptible to infections like tuberculosis. Many workers in these settings also tend to smoke, which contributes to damage caused by quartz dust.
What Are the Symptoms of Silicosis?
Silicosis and its symptoms are broken down into 3 types:
Chronic or classic silicosis occurs after 15-20 years of regular quartz dust exposure and may require a chest x-ray for proper diagnosis. Symptoms get worse over time and include shortness of breath (especially when exercising), fatigue, chest pain, and respiratory failure.
Accelerated silicosis can take place after 5-10 years of high exposure to crystalline silica. Shortness of breath, weakness, and weight loss are the primary symptoms.
Acute silicosis can occur as soon as a few months or as long as 2 years following extremely high concentrations of crystalline silica exposure. Symptoms include severe shortness of breath, weakness, weight loss, and death.
What If I’ve Been Exposed to Crystalline Silica?
Even if it is extremely concentrated, you will not develop silicosis the first time you inhale crystalline silica. Over time, however, exposure becomes more dangerous.
The following precautions can mitigate the amount of quartz dust you are exposed to:
- Replacing materials that contain crystalline silica with safer substitutes
- Using protective equipment and proper ventilating procedures
- Wearing respirators
- Using water sprays or other dust-reducing practices
- Participating in training
- Showering and/or changing clothes after working around quartz dust
- Refraining from eating, drinking, smoking, or applying cosmetics in affected areas
If you are concerned about crystalline silica exposure, talk to your employer. Per the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), employees may only be exposed to certain amounts of quartz dust during an 8-hour shift. Additionally, employers must provide hazard communication training, a respirator program, and/or engineering controls to reduce your chances of exposure and silicosis.
What If I’ve Been Diagnosed with Silicosis?
Silicosis is typically tied to workplace exposure, so you should be able to file a workers’ comp claim for any expenses or losses related to your occupational illness.
Our experienced attorneys have been serving injured workers for over 25 years and would be honored to help you recover the compensation you’re entitled to.