The Health Effects of Silica Exposure

December 2, 2023
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Every worksite in the stone and concrete industries needs to manage silica particle exposure. Silica is a chemical agent, commonly found in industrial wastewater, that can cause long-term health problems to workers exposed to it. Over time, symptoms compound, eventually leading to serious problems. Taking proper precautions to minimize silica exposure is a critical part of keeping workers safe and healthy on the job.  

What is Silica? 

Silica is a naturally occurring chemical substance derived from silicon, a metallic element found in earth’s crust. Silica is used in various industrial settings, including glass manufacturing and concrete construction projects. In industries like stone fabrication and concrete, where drilling and cutting is common, silica dust can leach into the air and surrounding wastewater. Breathing in silica dust, even in small amounts, can cause serious health problems over time.  


Major Health Effects of Silica 

Breathing in silica dust over many years working out in the field has been linked to several serious health conditions.  


Silicosis is a lung disease caused by the inhalation of pure silica dust. Silicosis places stress on the lungs and often manifests as shortness of breath, weakness, fatigue, and coughing. Eventually, everyday activities like walking or running can become difficult.  Initial symptoms are often subtle and mistaken for other health conditions, so affected workers should have an x-ray taken if they believe they may be suffering from silicosis.  

Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) 

COPD refers to a group of respiratory illnesses, including emphysema and chronic bronchitis. Silica dust can irritate the lungs and create blockages in critical airways, leading to the development of COPD or related conditions. Workers diagnosed with COPD may experience wheezing, shortness of breath, chest tightness, fatigue, swelling in the legs or ankles, or a severe cough.  

Lung Cancer 

Silica particles can disrupt the lung’s cell growth and regeneration, leading to harmful mutations or lung cancer. Left untreated, lung cancer can spread to other parts of the body and lead to death.  

Kidney Disease 

Excessive exposure of silica dust can impair the function of the kidney, the organ responsible for filtering toxins out of the body. Over time, the kidney may fail entirely. Workers diagnosed with kidney disease may experience nausea, vomiting, fatigue, sleeping problems, cramps, and high blood pressure.     

Protective Measures 

There are several ways to protect yourself and your employees from silica dust exposure, including:  

Reduce Exposure 

Use a water hose to wet silica dust before it becomes airborne and try to avoid working in silica dust whenever possible.  Consider keeping employees on a regular rotation to limit the amount of time each employee is exposed. 

Use Respirators 

Respirators filter silica dust out the air before workers inhale it, cutting down on exposure dramatically. Worksites are free to use any model of respirator that has been approved by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), though OSHA stipulates that worksites must provide the level of protection afforded by N95 NIOSH-approved respirators (or greater).  

Encourage Regular Medical Screenings 

Workers that are regularly exposed to silica dust should undergo regular checkups to catch abnormalities and health problems early—before they cause permanent damage.  

Utilize Proper Water Filtration 

Silica present in industrial wastewater can leach into the air and be inhaled by nearby workers. Stone fabrication water filtration and water recycling systems, such as those offered by Full Circle Water, can filter out silica dust so it can be disposed of safely.  

Reinvent Your Wastewater System with Full Circle Water 

Properly managing wastewater and using stone fabrication water systems can protect your team from silica and other stone particles. Full Circle Water provides a large range of stone and concrete plants so you can become the boss of your slurry. Whether you need a turnkey solution or a trailer plant for remote job sites, our team is here to find the perfect solution.    

Contact us today so we can get the perfect system in place for your operation.