Basic facts about Silica 

Silica, another name for the natural compound silicon dioxide (SiO2), comprises nearly 60% of the earth’s crust. Although it most frequently appears in soil, sand and stone, silica is a dexterous substance and utilized extensively throughout the world. In fact, because of its versatility, silica is considered an essential building block for life as we know it today. 

The Good

From health supplements and cellphones to the bricks of our homes, silica is a key ingredient in a vast number of modern products and basic essentials.

Most commonly, the type of silica called crystalline silica is found in ordinary products such as glass, pottery, bricks, mortar and artificial stone. Without silica, houses, roads and transportation wouldn’t exist as we know them.

Commercially, silica is in many health supplements used largely for skin health and joint and bone care. It may also be used in blood pressure and high cholesterol medication.

Additionally, the construction of technological equipment such as computers and phones contain crystalline silica. On a broad scale, silica is essential in the infrastructure of the internet, renewable energy and telecommunications.  

The Bad

While silica’s benefits to society are numerous, it can also cause illness. When silica becomes respirable, it becomes dangerous. This occurs primarily on worksites involving cutting, sawing, drilling, or crushing silica. Nearly 2.3 million American workers are exposed to dangerous crystalline silica dust every day.

Breathing in crystalline silica dust is toxic and leads to severe health implications. Some of the issues/illness from crystalline silica dust include: 

·       Bronchitis - This involves the inflammation of the bronchial tubes which leads to chest congestion, wheezing and coughed-up mucus. 

·        Systemic autoimmune diseases

o   Lupus - This is a disease that affects skin, blood cells, heart, lungs and joints. Lupus has no cure, but symptoms can be managed.

 o   Rheumatoid arthritis - This is a disorder which causes severe inflammation to joints as well as damage to skin, eyes, lungs and heart. 

The Ugly

The most common illness from silica dust is silicosis. When you inhale small crystalline silica dust, it embeds itself in the lungs, which, after a time, inflame and scar. There are several forms of silicosis. 

·       Chronic silicosis – This is the most common form of silicosis, which slowly occurs within 10 to 30 years of exposure. Symptoms include damaged lungs with scarring, difficulty in breathing and coughing. Extreme cases, called complicated silicosis, lead to heart disease. 

·       Accelerated silicosis – This type is similar to chronic, however, occurs at an accelerated rate, within the first five years of high-level exposure. 

·        Acute silicosis – After high exposure, symptoms may occur within weeks. Symptoms include cough, weight loss, fever and fatigue. 

While typically caused by smoking, lung cancer is also a danger of silica dust exposure. Symptoms of lung cancer include a consistent cough, chest pain, coughing up blood, shortness of breath, bone pain, headache and loss in weight.

The Treatment

To protect yourself from respirable silicosis and other ailments, the best practice is to decrease exposure to respirable crystalline silica. Worksites grinding, crushing or drilling rock, mortar or concrete should create a preventative action plan against respirable crystalline silica exposure. NIOSH recommends the following ideas: 

·       Educate yourself and others on the dangers of breathing crystalline silica dust. Awareness is key. 

·       On worksites, use water spray systems and appropriate ventilation in confined areas. 

·       Wear a respirator on the worksite when working around products/objects containing crystalline silica. Even if you cannot see the dust, you may still be at risk. 

·       Wash hands before and after working in dust-covered areas.

·        Keep your clothes and body clean after leaving dusty workplace. 

Most importantly, NIOSH recommends all employee take advantage of medical and wellness screenings. Health screenings alleviate risk and track longstanding health effects to exposures on the job to keep workers safe and protected. 

Employers should be aware of OSHA’s two respirable crystalline silica standards to protect workers: one for construction and the other for general industry and maritime.

National Safety Conference 2019

If you are attending the NSC 2019 Congress and Expo, make sure to attend the “Challenges Implementing the New OSHA Respirable Silica Standard” presentation, given by our Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Kent Peterson. Examinetics has already conducted more than 2,000 silica exams, so you can gain insights from our extensive experience. Also, stop by our booth for more information about silica and our medical services to keep your workforce healthy and safe.


·        Safe Silica: What is crystalline silica?

·         Safe Silica: Work Safely with Silica

·         Manaktaka American Indian Council

·         Safety and Health: Continuing silicosis death are cause for concern, NIOSH says

·         Safety and Health: What it is and how to avoid it

·         American Lung Assoication





This is business-to-business information intended for EHS (environmental health and safety) professionals and not intended for the final consumer. Companies should check the local regulatory status of any claim according to their individual needs, requirements and intended use.