Construction Workers Should Know: Silica - It's not just dust

What happens if you are exposed to too much silica?

Breathing silica deep into the lungs can cause silicosis. With silicosis, silica particles lodge in the lung tissue, causing scarring. The lungs become less flexible, making it difficult to breathe and do hard work. Once silicosis develops, the damage is permanent. There is no recovery.

x-ray of silicosis

In the 1700s, an early medical scholar, Isbrand van Diemerbroeck, said autopsied lungs of stonecutters contained "so much sand that cutting through the pulmonary vesicles felt like cutting a body of sand." Things haven’t changed. In 1994 a NIOSH pathologist said “His lungs were hard as rock. I couldn’t cut them with a scalpel,” after examination of a deceased silicosis victim’s lungs.

Breathing silica dust can also cause lung cancer and increase the chance of developing tuberculosis. Studies have shown that construction workers exposed to silica dust have an increased risk of silicosis and other lung diseases.