Crystalline silica is a basic component of soil, sand, granite, and many other minerals. Quartz is the most common form of crystalline silica. Silica may become respirable size particles when workers chip, cut, drill, or grind objects that contain crystalline silica. Silica exposure remains a serious threat to more than 100,000 U.S. workers in high risk jobs such as abrasive blasting, foundry work, stonecutting, rock drilling, quarry work and tunneling. The seriousness of the health hazards associated with silica exposure is demonstrated by the fatalities and disabling illnesses that continue to occur in sandblasters and rock drillers. Crystalline silica has been classified as a human lung carcinogen. Additionally, breathing crystalline silica dust can cause silicosis, which in severe cases can be disabling, or even fatal.

The respirable silica dust enters the lungs and causes the formation of scar tissue, thus reducing the lungs’ ability to take in oxygen. There is no cure for silicosis. Since silicosis affects lung function, it makes one more susceptible to lung infections like tuberculosis. Exposure occurs during many different construction activities. The most severe exposures generally occur during abrasive blasting with sand to remove paint and rust from bridges, tanks, concrete structures, and other surfaces. Other construction activities that may result in severe exposure include: jack hammering, rock/well drilling, concrete mixing, concrete drilling, brick and concrete block cutting and sawing, tuck pointing, tunneling operations. The most severe exposures to crystalline silica result from abrasive blasting, which is done to clean and smooth irregularities from molds, jewelry, and foundry castings, finish tombstones, etch or frost glass, or remove paint, oils, rust, or dirt form objects needing to be repainted or treated.

Permissible Exposure Limits (PELs) for Airborne Contaminants:

Airborne contaminant TWA8 STEL TWA STEL
Silica, crystalline Cristobalite Respirable fraction 0.05mg/m3 0.15 mg/m3
Silica, crystalline quartz Respirable Fraction 0.1mg/m3 0.3 mg/m3

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