Although Silica is not used in products and materials that contained asbestos in the past, like fiberglass or mineral wool, silica dust can cause many of the same health problems as exposure to asbestos and it is a huge health hazard to those who work in the construction industry.
What are the risks of silica dust? Let’s ask Scientific American:
“Produced by tasks such as grinding concrete and sandblasting, used in the construction and other industries, crystalline silica dust can cause silicosis — an incurable disease involving inflammation of the lungs — and lung cancer. The dust is thought to kill or disable thousands of people in the United States every year, but guidelines on working with it have not been updated for more than 40 years.”
Both Asbestosis and Silicosis are defined as Occupational Lung Diseases, those diseases caused by “repeated, extended exposure or a single, severe exposure to irritating or toxic substances that leads to acute or chronic respiratory ailments.” American Lung Association
Asbestos is of course heavily regulated, but not banned in the US as yet. Many activists would like it to be. Silica, however, is relatively unregulated and a real danger, especially to US construction workers. New regulations would cut in half the amount of silica dust a worker could be exposed to over an 8 hour work shift. They would also mandate the use of extraction fans and the practice of “wetting down” the silica dust so that it is not floating in the air. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration believes these regulations could save as many as 700 lives per year in the US alone. They hope that other countries would follow suit, saving many more lives.
40 years is too long to wait to revise the regulations on these hazardous particles. We hope that the rules can change soon to protect the health of both American workers and those around the world.