Silicosis is the chronic scarring disease of the lungs produced by the prolonged and extensive exposure to free crystalline silica dust. When workers inhale crystalline silica (dust), the lung tissue reacts by developing fibrotic nodules and scarring around the trapped silica particles. This fibrotic condition of the lung is called silicosis. If the nodules grow too large, breathing becomes difficult and death may result. Silicosis victims are also at high risk of developing active tuberculosis. More than one million U.S. workers are exposed to crystalline silica, and each year hundreds of these workers die from silicosis. Silicosis treatment is very limited as there is no cure for the disease, but it is 100 percent preventable if employers, workers, and health professionals work together to reduce exposures.
Pneumoconiosis is the general term for lung disease caused by inhalation of mineral dust. Silicosis is a fibronodular lung disease caused by inhalation of dust containing crystalline silica (alpha-quartz or silicon dioxide), which is distributed widely, or its polymorphs (tridymite or cristobalite), which are distributed less widely.Silica-related diseases are associated only with crystalline-free silica. The most common examples of crystalline-free silica are beach or bank sands. A third form of free silica is fused silica which is produced by heating either the amorphous or crystalline forms. Other forms include cristobalite and tridymite. Workers exposed to silica dust are often exposed to asbestos as well and many will develop asbestos lung diseases including a rare lung disease called mesothelioma.
Types of Silicosis
Workers may develop any of three types of silicosis, depending on the concentration of airborne silica:
- Chronic silicosis, which usually occurs after ten 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 five to ten years after the initial exposure.
- Acute silicosis, which occurs where exposure concentrations are the highest and can cause symptoms to develop within a few weeks to four or five years after the initial exposure.
Silicosis Symptoms and Side Effects of Silicosis Lung Disease
Early stages of silicosis may go unnoticed. Continued exposure to silica dust may result in a shortness of breath on exercising, possible fever and occasionally bluish skin at the ear lobes or lips. Silicosis makes a person more susceptible to infectious diseases of the lungs, such as tuberculosis. Progression of silicosis leads to fatigue, extreme shortness of breath, loss of appetite, pains in the
chest, and respiratory failure, which may cause death. Medical evaluations of silicosis victims usually show the lungs to be filled with silica crystals and a protein material. Pulmonary fibrosis (fibrous tissue in the lung) may or may not develop in acute cases of silicosis depending on the time between the exposure and the onset of symptoms. Furthermore, evidence indicates that crystalline silica is a potential occupational carcinogen.
Silicosis is most commonly diagnosed in people over the age of forty as it usually takes years of exposure before the effects of the gradually progressive lung damage becomes apparent. Damage to the lung tissue means that the lungs cannot perform their function of supplying oxygen to the blood as well as they should. The symptoms resulting from this include a cough, with or without sputum, shortness of breath particularly on exertion, and chest tightness. These symptoms of silicosis develop over time as the lung tissue becomes irreversibly damaged by fibrosis and is replaced with solid nodules of scar tissue. This gets getting worse as the lung damage increases.
In the most common form of silicosis, called chronic silicosis, these symptoms develop over many years of exposure. However, in the rarer form, called acute silicosis, the symptoms develop very quickly after only a short period of exposure to high levels of silica dust. In this acute form sufferers can sometimes die within a year. The damage suffered by the lungs leaves a person susceptible to lung infections, and to TB in particular. Smoking not only aggravates the symptoms of silicosis but also speeds up the progress of the disease. For this reason it is essential that those diagnosed with silicosis are helped to give
up smoking. There is no cure for silicosis. Its essential that the person with silicosis remove themselves from the risks of further silica exposure and that they stop smoking. In the winter immunization against influenza (‘flu’) is recommended. Sufferers should also have a vaccination against pneumococcal infection, a very common cause of pneumonia. Treatment to reduce inflammation and improve lung function may help and home oxygen therapy can be provided when needed to help with breathing difficulties.
Common Silicosis Symptoms:
- shortness of breath following physical exertion
- severe cough
- loss of appetite
- chest pains
- cyanosis (bluish skin)
- and others. (See your doctor and get diagnosed).
The crystalline silica is commonly found in sandstone, granite, slate, coal, and pure silica sand so people who work with these materials, as well as foundry workers, rock cutters, rock drillers and sandblasters are at high risk. Men tend to be affected more often than women since they are more likely to have been exposed to the silica.
At-Risk Occupations for Silica Dust Exposure
It is generally recognized that people working in the following industries have the greatest risk of being exposed to silica dust and contracting silicosis:
- Mining – Tunneling
- Stone Crushing
- Rock Quarries Work- Rock Drilling
- Masonry – Cement Work
- Foundry Workers, Sand Mold Shakeout
- Sandblast Dust Exposure to other Non-Sandblasters in work area
- Cutting or manufacturing heat-resistant bricks (Fire Brick)
- Manufacturing of glass products
- Railroad construction
Silicosis – Medical Treatment & Recommendations
There is no cure for silicosis. The prognosis for patients with chronic silicosis is generally good. Acute silicosis, however, may progress rapidly to respiratory failure and death. Therapy is intended to relieve symptoms, treat complications, and prevent respiratory infections. It includes careful monitoring for signs of TB. Respiratory symptoms may be treated with bronchodilators, increased fluid intake, steam inhalation, and physical therapy. Patients with severe breathing difficulties may be given oxygen therapy or placed on a mechanical ventilator. Acute silicosis may progress to complete respiratory failure. Heart-lung transplants are the only hope for some silicosis patients.
Silicosis Medical Care and Recommendations
Most all experts agree all patients should prevent further exposure to free silica dust. Silicosis patients need to also avoid other dusty environments especially areas of high concentrations of heated exhaust fumes. Silicosis/ Lung Specialists often advise patients to quit smoking and provide help in smoking cessation efforts. Silicosis patients get immunized against influenza and pneumococcal pneumonia. No specific therapy for silicosis cures or alters the course of the disease.
According to the latest literature, there are some experimental approaches to silicosis treatment which include whole-lung lavage, aluminum inhalation, and corticosteroids. Corticosteroids are included in this list because evidence as to its benefit in chronic silicosis is insufficient.
Many silicosis patients that have latent tuberculosis infections (ie, positive tuberculin skin test result without active disease) are treated with isoniazid. If the doctors diagnosed silicosis with active tuberculosis (ie, Mycobacterium tuberculosis identified in smear or culture) then that patient is usually treated very aggressively with the appropriate TB drugs.
Silicosis – Warnings & Information for the Silica Worker
Information for the Worker in High Silica Environments:
- Workers should receive training [29 CFR 1926.21] that includes the following: Information about the potential adverse health effects of silica exposure.
- Material safety data sheets (MSDS) for silica, alternative abrasives, or other hazardous materials [29 CFR 1926.59]
- Instruction about obeying signs that mark the boundaries of work areas containing crystalline silica
- Information about safe handling, labeling, and storage of toxic materials [30 CFR 56.20012, 56.16004, 57.20012, 77.208]
- Discussion about the importance of engineering controls, personal hygiene, and work practices in reducing crystalline silica exposure
- Instruction about the use and care of appropriate protective equipment (including protective clothing and respiratory protection)
- All workers should be properly fitted with the proper respirator. The safety expert should not only make sure that the employees understand the importance of respirator use, but make sure the employees are using them correctly and check back from time to time to insure that they are actually using them. Further safety experts should instruct the silica workers that paper dust masks do not prevent silicosis. These paper masks are not fitted and allow the worker to be exposed to free silica dust.
SILICOSIS WARNING SIGNS: Signs should be posted to warn workers about the hazard and specify any protective equipment required
Silicosis Injury Help – Lawsuit & Legal Rights
If you or a loved one have been diagnosed with silicosis or you believe that due to your employment that you have been exposed to free silica dust, then call us toll free at 1-866-333-3529 now to discuss what can be done to protect your legal rights and whether or not you have possible silicosis based lawsuit. You may not know when or where you were exposed to the silica dust. However after careful investigation and discussions about job history, work duties and the types of products and materials worked with, we often are able to discover and understand the silica exposure history. Sometimes due to health reasons, it becomes necessary to enlist the help of former coworkers to help uncover the exposure history. The silicosis cases are handling by a contingency fee basis, which means that there will be no fee if there is no recovery.
What Does All This Mean And What Can I Do Now?
Bagolie Friedman is representing workers exposed to silica. You may also be covered under your State’s Workers’ Compensation system. If you believe that you or someone you know suffered serious side effects from being exposed to silica dust please contact us.