What Are the Dangers of Silica Dust?

If inhaled, silica dust can lead to lung cancer.
A person sandblasting with silica.
Article Details
  • Written By: M.R. Anglin
  • Edited By: Kristen Osborne
  • Last Modified Date: 23 July 2014
  • Copyright Protected:
    2003-2014
    Conjecture Corporation
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Silica dust is a potentially dangerous substance that some workers may be exposed to on a regular basis. The dust can be released through virtually any process that destroys rocks or sends dust into the air. One of the most serious dangers of silica dust is silicosis, a condition that can reduce a person’s capacity to breathe. Exposure to the dust may also result in lung cancer, stomach cancer, and renal disease. It can also lead to other lung diseases, such as tuberculosis and emphysema.

Silica is commonly and abundantly found in much of the earth’s rock and can become airborne when that rock is destroyed. If there is a destruction or pulverization of rock, such as grinding or cutting, that results in dust, the danger of silica inhalation may be present. Many workers may be subject to silica exposure. One of the most well known industries at risk for silica inhalation is sandblasting. Another at risk industry is ceramic or glassmaking.

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Exposure to silica dust can result in symptoms such as coughing and difficulty breathing. Silica exposure may also raise a person’s risk for various lung diseases. Tuberculosis, fibrosis, and lung cancer may all develop after a person has been exposed to airborne silica. In addition, renal disease, or kidney disease, stomach cancer, and kidney inflammation may develop. It is important, therefore, for a person to limit his exposure to airborne silica as much as possible especially if he works in an industry where he may be exposed to it.

The inhalation of silica dust can lead to a serious disease known as silicosis. Silicosis occurs when airborne silica is inhaled and gets into the lungs. The dust particles irritate the lung and cause inflammation. Eventually, the body’s immune system will cover the area in scar tissue. Scar tissue can disrupt the lungs' ability to intake oxygen, and so may interrupt a person’s ability to breathe.

Silicosis may show up in three different forms. If silica dust is inhaled in high doses over a short period of time — a few weeks to five years — acute silicosis may develop. Accelerated silicosis may take from five to 10 years to develop. Most cases of silicosis are chronic silicosis. This form of the disease often results when a person inhales silica over a period of 10 to 40 years.

There are some safety precautions a person can take to limit his exposure to silica dust. For instance, a filtration breathing system may be used. Another system uses water to keep the dust from becoming airborne in the first place. A person can also wear special clothes or use an appropriate ventilation system to keep the dust from being inhaled. A place of business may also educate its workers on silica dust danger and how best to avoid it.

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