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Silicosis: The Hidden Danger of Frac Sand

What is Silicosis?

If you have miners in your family, you may have heard of silicosis. Silicosis is a serious lung disease that is caused by the inhalation of crystalline silica dust. It is also known as miner’s pthisis because the disease was first identified in mine workers. However, anyone who is chronically exposed to silica dust is at risk of developing silicosis.

Silica is the second most abundant mineral in the Earth’s crust. It is the main component of sand, rock, and many mineral ores. Therefore, silica dust is an occupational hazard for anyone who works with sand or stone, including construction workers, demolition workers, masons, concrete workers, drywall workers, and highway workers.

Silicosis and Hydraulic Fracturing

When you think about fracking dangers, you may think of equipment malfunctions, toxic chemicals, and natural gas explosions. However, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control believes that exposure to crystalline silica is the most significant health hazard to hydraulic fracturing workers.

During the process of hydraulic fracturing, large volumes of water, sand, and chemicals are pumped into the ground. “Frac sand”, which is made almost entirely of silica, is used to hold open the fissures created by hydraulic fracturing, so natural gas can flow out of the well. Each stage in a fracking operation involves hundreds of thousands of pounds of “frac sand”. As the sand is loaded, transported, and moved, it generates a fine dust made of crystalline silica. Workers who breathe in silica dust are at risk of developing silicosis.

Symptoms of Silicosis

Silicosis is an incurable but preventable lung disease.  Most workers gradually develop silicosis after long periods of exposure to low levels of crystalline silica dust.  However, silicosis may develop after just a few months of intense exposure to crystalline silica sand.

When the worker inhales crystalline silica, the silica particles embed in the lung tissue and cause swelling in the lungs and lymph nodes. This affects breathing. As the swelling worsens, the lungs may fill with fluid causing additional breathing difficulties and low blood oxygen levels. The swelling can also cause a condition called progressive massive fibrosis, or irreparable scarring and stiffening of the lungs. Progressive massive fibrosis may lead to respiratory failure.

Patients with silicosis are at high risk for lung infections and tuberculosis.

Other Health Problems Associated With Crystalline Silica

Crystalline silica is a known carcinogen of the lungs. Silica dust has also been linked to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and kidney disease.

If You have been Diagnosed With Silicosis

Employers must advise workers of on-the-job dangers and take steps to prevent risk to worker health. If you have been diagnosed with job-related silicosis, lung cancer or COPD, your employer may be held liable for your condition.

Frackcident Injury Law and attorney Jon Ostroff are currently reviewing cases involving silicosis and other lung diseases in fracking workers. If you are a fracking worker who has been diagnosed with silicosis, we urge you to report your illness using our online form or by calling 855-880-6667. Our attorneys will follow-up and advise you of your legal rights. There is no charge for the consultation.