What is Silica Dust?
What are the Dangers?
Many dusts contain crystalline silica, a mineral that makes up nearly all 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. When dormant, it'a harmless – but when disturbed and inhaled it can become a formidable health hazard.
Prolonged or intense inhalation thickens the lining of the lungs causing them to 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.
Searching For Solutions
Many organizations in the oil and gas sector are looking at effective ways to reduce silica exposure at worksites. Industry associations, researcher and government continue to explore various controls and alternatives to reduce or eliminate silica dust.
- 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.