What are the Health Effects?
Signs & Symptoms
Silica causes permanent lung damage that can be disabling and potentially lead to death. When workers inhale crystalline silica, the lung tissue reacts by developing fibrotic nodules and scarring around the trapped silica particles. If the nodules grow too large, breathing becomes difficult.
Silica exposure can cause silicosis and people with silicosis are also at a higher risk of developing tuberculosis. There is no cure for silicosis, but it is 100% preventable. The three types of silicosis are:
- Chronic silicosis, which usually occurs after 10 or more years of exposure to crystalline silica at relatively low concentrations;
- Accelerated silicosis, which results from exposure to high concentrations of crystalline silica and develops 5 to 10 years after the initial exposure; and
- Acute silicosis, which occurs where exposure concentrations are the highest and can cause symptoms to develop within a few weeks to 4 or 5 years after the initial exposure.
Silica and other dusts also cause COPD. COPD includes chronic bronchitis, emphysema, bronchiectasis, and chronic airway obstruction. In 2014, COPD ranked as the third leading cause of death in the U.S. with over 147,000 deaths. COPD is projected to become the third most common cause of death worldwide by 2020.
Symptoms from both silicosis and COPD may not be obvious and can initially include shortness of breath, chest pain, or a persistent cough. Silicosis and COPD can be severe enough to cause respiratory failure, which may eventually lead to death.
In addition, silica exposure has been linked to other illnesses including lung cancer and kidney disease.