Last week I introduced you to the basic process of hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking”, and I indicated one of the significant pulmonary health risks to workers at the drilling sites was an exposure to silica found in the hundreds of thousands of pounds of sand injected into oil and gas wells.

In the past the major silica dust exposure in our area came from the brick making industry. Locally, that industry is a mere shadow of its former self. It may be that sand mover operators and T-belt operators will represent the new epidemic of silica dust exposure and disease. Air sampling at drill sites is under the supervision of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) of the federal government. Current data shows that silica levels in the air were above OSHA standards in 84% of the drilling sites. These levels of exposure put the workers at high risk of developing silicosis. Along with the lung disease and its consequences, there are several other significant diseases associated with silica exposure which I will discuss in the next article.

Keep in mind that it will take 20 years or more for workers to be aware of their silicosis and since the use of large amounts of sand (99% silica) began in the 2000’s it will be the next generation of physicians that will need to be aware of, and deal with, this health problem. Next week I will discuss the other disease