Silica dust exposure through respirable silica is extremely hazardous to our health. Silica is found abundantly in the environment around us in the form of Silicon Dioxide, in crystalline and amorphous forms. The crystalline form of silica is a commonly found mineral in sand, rocks, soil, bricks, engineered stone, cement and other building materials. The manufacturing process of electrical components, glass as well as ceramics also requires silica.
When construction activities such as drilling, sawing, cutting, polishing, grinding, demolition and excavation, to name a few, occur on materials containing silica, it produces fine silica dust particles. These particles are called fugitive dust as they are smaller than 10 microns. Exposure to these particles around construction areas is very easy. These miniscule particles can find their way into our lungs and cause serious health hazards. In this blog, we will discuss how respirable silica dust can affect our health and lead to the development of some severe diseases.
Studies have shown that with an increase in the duration and intensity of silica dust exposure, there is a significant rise in the risk of chronic bronchitis. The bronchi are the tubes which carry the air into and out of the alveoli (air sacs) in the lungs. When the cells in the bronchi are exposed to the fine silica dust particles, they get irritated and release excessive amount of mucus as well as start to swell. This results in obstruction in flow of oxygen and carbon dioxide, to and from the lungs.
Emphysema is a type of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), in which the lining of the alveoli of the lungs get impaired. Alveoli are where the exchange of gases takes place. When these delicate tissues in the lungs are destroyed, air pockets are formed in the lungs. Silica may induce emphysema as too many free oxygen radicals are generated by silica particles and inflammatory cells.
Continuous contact or exposure to silica dust may lead to development of lung cancer. Crystalline silica is classified as a group 1 carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC). Each year, over 200 people develop lung cancer due to past occupational exposure to silica dust. The risk of cancer increases with repeated long-term exposure. There is an uncontrolled reproduction or growth of abnormal cells present in the lungs.
Inhaling silica dust can cause a type of fibrosis known as silicosis. In this, the tissue of the internal lining of the lungs gets scarred by the tiny silica particles. It is characterised by nodular lesions and inflammation in the upper lungs. It can be of three types- acute, chronic and accelerated. Acute silicosis can develop after a short term exposure to silica dust, within weeks to years. Long term exposure (10 or more years) to low levels of silica dust can cause chronic silicosis.[WU1] Accelerated silicosis can develop within 1-10 years, after exposure to moderate to high levels of respirable silica.
Accidentally breathing in crystalline silica can cause scleroderma. Scleroderma is an autoimmune disorder of the connective tissue in which the skin of the body gets hardened. It’s symptoms also include scar tissue formation in the skin and various joints. Inhaling silica can trigger the excessive production of antibodies, which in turn start attacking the organs of the body.
There are a numerous other silica related diseases which can be caused by exposure to fugitive silica dust, apart from the ones mentioned above. Silica still remains a serious threat, especially to the people whose occupation pertains to silica exposure. Silica inspection by an experienced and professional service like NCPI, is imperative for private as well as commercial property owners. We have qualified experts who perform a thorough air monitoring and testing for detecting silica dust. For any queries regarding silica dust inspection and testing process, call our expert consultants on 0413 952 683.