Each year, hundreds of workers die from silicosis and hundreds more are no longer able to take care of their families or themselves. Silicosis is an irreversible, disabling, incurable lung disease. Over 1 million workers in the U.S. are at risk of developing the disease, and over 14,000 have already died from it since 1968.
The highest number of workers’ deaths from silicosis is in the construction industry. Some of the materials that contain crystalline silica in the form of quartz, include:
— Ceramic tile
— Joint compound
— Some types of siding
The fine particles are created by grinding and cutting. When the dust is inhaled, the silica scars your lungs. The symptoms of silicosis include shortness of breath, wheezing, chest tightness and a severe cough. Inhaling crystalline silica has also been linked to an increased risk for lung cancer, kidney disease and tuberculosis.
There are three types of silicosis. Acute silicosis can cause death within months and occurs after only a few weeks or months of being exposed crystalline silica at very high levels. Accelerated silicosis occurs about five to 10 years after exposure to high levels of crystalline silica. Chronic silicosis occurs after 10 years or more to crystalline silica exposure at low levels. The most common type is chronic silicosis.
Preventing exposure to crystalline silica is done by keeping the silica dust out of the air. This can be done by wetting the dust or using vacuums with HEPA filters. Respirators, although they should not be the primary way of protecting employees, can help limit exposure. Annual medical check-ups should include checks for silica exposure.
If you have been diagnosed with silicosis from work exposure, you can file a claim for workers’ compensation benefits. If it is denied, then an experienced lawyer can help you file an appeal.
Source: New Jersey Occupational Health Surveillance Program, “Dry Cutting & Grinding is Risky Business,” accessed June 09, 2016