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What is Silica Dust and Where can it be Found?
- Many dusts contain crystalline silica, a mineral that makes up nearly all of what is called sand and rock. It’s in masonry, tiles, granite, brick, concrete, grout, mortar, paint and asphalt. It’s also in abrasives used in blasting, the dust on roads and the sand used in oilfield operations.
How can Silica Dust be Dangerous?
- When dormant, silica is harmless – but when disturbed, airborne and inhaled it can become a formidable health hazard. Prolonged or intense inhalation of silica dust thickens the lining of lungs and can become an opaque mass and lose the ability to expand and contract – making it as if you were breathing through a straw. The potential outcome is silicosis – a disabling, sometimes fatal lung disease. Silica exposure has also been linked to bronchitis, tuberculosis and lung cancer.
What are the 10 Common Sources on a Frack Site?
- Thief and vent hatches during loading of proppant, either by way of conveyor belts or pneumatic conveyance (use of air)
- Any uncovered fill nozzles on vertical or horizontal sand storage
- Handling of bulk silica fracturing dust (powder), such as from a vacuum unit or in air filters
- Conveyor junction points
- Sand tent loading and unloading
- Top of blend truck auger
- Truck end-dump or bottom-dump locations
- Soil, rock and clay ground cover
How can Workers and Frontline Supervisors Protect Themselves?
- The resources include a new Silica Exposure Control Plan (ECP) template and associated guidance sheets that provide detailed information on health hazards posed by silica – including exposure factors, limits and symptoms. They also prescribe processes for risk identification, assessment and control – and outline clear responsibilities for employers, prime contractors, supervisors and workers.
How is the Oil and Gas Industry Searching for Solutions?
- Many upstream worksites are already successfully using a variety of engineering control strategies. The goal is to increase access and use of those and other controls so it becomes normal practice on all worksites. Government, researchers, industry associations and companies continue to explore alternative ways to keep workers safe on sites where silica exposures are likely. With respect to silica exposure in hydraulic fracturing sites they are:
- Using non-silica ceramic proppant – although expensive to produce its safer to work around
- Installing cyclone dust collectors and portable baghouses to capture dust from thief hatches as it is generated
- Hanging staging or stilling curtains (also called passive enclosures) to limit dust around belt operations
- Reducing the distance sand falls through the air when being moved
- Using screw augers instead of transfer belts on sand movers
- Gathering dust from sites and equipment with industrial vacuums
- Using specially formulated water to reduce dust
- Making cam-locks mandatory for fill ports on sand movers
- Limiting the number of workers and the amount of time they can be in areas with higher concentrations of silica
- Beefing up worker training, knowledge and awareness
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