Silica Exposure Hazard Alert Paves Way for Comprehensive Standard
Recent field studies by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) identify seven primary sources of silica dust exposure during hydraulic fracturing or fracking, leading the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to issue a hazard alert. Crystalline Silica is a common mineral and a major component of the sand, clay and stone used to make every day products. When inhaled, small silica particles less than 10 micrometers in diameter can enter the lungs. Overexposure to respirable silica dust can result in silicosis, a lung disease that inflames and scars lung tissue around trapped silica particles.
Fracking requires transporting, handling and mixing large amounts of silica sand. The fracking process involves pumping silica sand and water into a well under high pressure to break up shale or other formations and access natural gas and oil deposits. The NIOSH field study collected 116 air samples at 11 fracking sites in five states. Seventy-nine percent (79%) of the samples showed silica exposures greater than the NIOSH regulatory exposure limit (REL). Approximately half (47%) of the samples showed silica exposure over both the personal exposure limit set by OSHA and the NIOSH REL.
OSHA and NIOSH suggest consulting with an industrial hygiene professional to determine worker exposure levels and select the right type of respiratory protection for each work area. The hazard alert recommends product substitution and several easy adjustments engineering controls and work practices to limit worker exposure during fracking.
The use of fracking has increased in the last decade increasing opportunities for silica exposure risks. This hazard alert is another step toward adopting a comprehensive silica standard, including provisions for exposure monitoring, engineering controls, work practice controls, training, respiratory protection, and medical surveillance, in order to prevent silica-related diseases.
JoAnn Copperud, CEO – Emeryville, CA