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Silicosis is lung disease caused by overexposure to crystalline silica that workers breath when exposed to fine sand dust. The particles are much smaller than sand found at a beach and are often microscopic. The disease is one of the oldest known occupational diseases, being found in miners and potters for hundreds of years. When silica, which form the bulk of sand, rock, and mineral ores, is broken into fine dust it lodges itself into a person's lungs. Over time scar tissue develops in the lungs, which damages the lungs' ability to work properly. The disease has various stages and degrees of severity: chronic, accelerated and acute forms. (see more on types).
The inhalation of these silica particles has also been linked with lung cancer, bronchitis and tuberculosis. The silicosis itself may lead to other conditions including lung fibrosis and emphysema. The disease is also linked to a fatal pulmonary tuberculosis actually called silico-tuberculosis. As the disease progresses it may become disabling, the person will have increasing difficulty breathing and may die.
The disease is incurable and irreversible and may progress even after the exposure ends. Workers with very high exposures are at greater risk.
Silicosis kills thousands of people around the world every year.
It is estimated that nearly 2 million workers in the United States are exposed to crystalline silica, with several hundred thousand at dangerous levels. About 300 American workers will die with silicosis each year. In an extensive study conducted from 1968 to 1994, there were a reported 14,824 silicosis deaths.
Experts on workplace safety believe the disease is nearly 100 percent preventable with modern technology. Proper use of protective gear and equipment by employers and workers could reduce exposures to safe levels. (More on Prevention)
Workers at Risk
Working in dusty areas where silica is airborne can increase the chances of getting silicosis.
Since silica dust is created when rocks, sand, concrete and mineral ores are crushed or broken certain occupations Workers in mines are believed to be at greatest risk, as well as those in quarries, foundries, certain construction sites, glass making, ceramics, masonry workshops, sandblasting (high risk), rock stone cutting (including sawing, abrasive drilling, masonry work, jack blasting, chipping, grinding, hammering, tunneling, cutting or drilling through sandstone and granite, certain agricultural work such as working in dusty conditions from disturbing the soil, or even plowing or harvesting, foundry work (including grinding, moldings, shakeout, core room work) shipbuilding (any any abrasive blasting) ceramics, clay, and pottery, railroad track work, manufacturing of soaps and manufacturing and use of abrasives detergents.
Basically any type of work that involves the creation of large dust clouds containing silica can be hazardous. Silica dust may be invisible to the naked eye and is very light and often remains airborne for long periods. If a single worker is diagnosed with silicosis, his co-workers are at high risk of developing silicosis.
Silicosis as an Occupational Disease Around the World
For decades, overexposure to dust containing crystalline silica has caused disease and health problems in workers around the world.
In the United States, of the estimated more than two million workers who are exposed an estimated 100,000 will eventually develop silicosis. An estimated 300 people die in the US from it, but the actual number may be higher.
One of the highest risks for US workers is abrasive blasting with silica sand, which is used to prep surfaces before painting, creates very dangerous conditions resulting in exposures as much as 200 times higher than safe levels determined by the US Occupational Safety and Health, which has concluded that silica sand be banned for use in abrasive sandblasting.
Epidemic in Countries around the World
According to reports compiled by the World Health Organization, there is widespread silicosis in many countries.
Getting accurate numbers are difficult because of under-diagnosis as well as under-reporting. In many cases the statistical and epidemiological data is poor, because many countries lack the resources to track occupational illnesses and thousands of workers in these places are not registered or accounted for.
-In the first half of the 1990's there were more than 500,000 cases of silicosis in Chinese workers and more than 24,000 deaths each year due to the disease. Lack of safety equipment and a long history of primitive working conditions are contributing factors in these staggering statistics.
-In Vietnam, with large numbers of people working in surface coal mining and quarrying areas silicosis constitutes an estimated 90% of all cases of occupational diseases.
-In India, many very young workers in sedimentary rock shale quarries in poorly ventilated working areas have had silicosis at very high rates in certain studies over 50% of workers.
-In Brazil, Rio de Janeiro has ended sandblasting after a 25% of its shipyard workers were diagnosed with silicosis.
Worldwide there is a widespread lack of awareness of the magnitude of the problem and consequently too few solutions are being examined. Many nations do not employ adequate preventive measures, such as control of dust generation, release and spread into the workplace, and respiratory protection; shortcomings in legislation and labor inspection for enforcement.
In the United States much of the problem is rooted in employers' not complying with federal safety standards for acceptable levels of exposure. Although mine operators and other industries must test air quality at work sites every few months to ensure dust levels are within federal guidelines, often the tests are not properly conducted, if at all.
If you have Silicosis you may want to speak to an attorney handling these matters: Contact a Silicosis Lawyer
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