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Hydrofracking and exposure to respirable crystalline silica dust

Its workers have always known that working in the oil and gas industry comes with numerous potential dangers. Explosions, falls and other injuries already draw the attention of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and its Texas counterpart, and that was when it was just about oil drilling and laying natural gas pipelines.

Now that hydrofracking has spread to many states, these agencies and others began taking a closer look at the risks to workers like you when working with this process of extracting natural gas and oil from places it didn't use to be reachable. Of course, those efforts may be too late for you or some of your co-workers since the process has been used here in Texas since around 1999 at the Barnett shale.

The health risks associated with fracking and silica

Obviously, this gas and oil extraction method is not without risks to you and your co-workers. The problem is that like other exposures to toxic materials, the damage from exposure to silica, which is a natural mineral produced by the earth that is nearly always present at fracking sites, is not always readily visible. It could take years for you to present any symptoms associated with your exposure. Below are the most common illnesses resulting from breathing in respirable crystalline silica dust:

  • Silicosis occurs due to scarring of the lungs from inhalation of silica dust, and its symptoms could take up to 20 years to appear. This condition is usually debilitating but may also be fatal.
  • The risk of kidney disease increases with exposure to silica dust.
  • Lung cancer occurs due to the growth of abnormal cells in the lungs, which interfere with their function. The cells that make up the tumors could spread throughout the body and could prove fatal.
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, more commonly referred to as COPD, is another condition that you could suffer from through exposure to silica dust. This condition is not reversible and could continue to progress even with treatment.

While federal agencies such as the U.S. Geological Survey and the Environmental Protection Agency get involved when groundwater or the air is polluted, not many people are looking out for you and your co-workers. Your employer should provide you with the appropriate safety equipment, gear and training to minimize, if not eliminate, your exposure to this toxic substance. However, with the amount of dust present at fracking operations, it may not be enough.

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