Black woman wearing ear protection

The Danger of Airborne Silica Dust

Crystalline silica is extremely common in nature. While it’s found in a number of forms, the most common is quartz. Quartz is used in industry as an abrasive, as a chemical component, and as an important element in electronics. It plays a key role in the creation of a number of common items we use every day.

However, in order for quartz to be utilized effectively, it needs to be shaped and processed, which can involve cutting, grinding, drilling and/or pulverizing the solid material. Inevitably this creates silica dust, made of very fine particles of silica which are invisible to the naked eye. Breathing these particles can cause a number of health problems, which is why OSHA sets strict environmental controls or businesses that use crystalline silica, in order to protect workers.

How Silica Dust Damages the Body

Silica dust is classified as a lung carcinogen, which means it predisposes those exposed to developing lung cancer, and the greater and the more frequent the exposure, the higher the chances of developing cancer climb.

Breathing silica dust can also cause silicosis, a lung condition that can be disabling as well as fatal in extreme cases.

When silica dust enters the lungs, it damages the bronchioles and alveoli, causing the formation of scar tissue. With repeated exposures this scar tissue can begin to impede the ability of the lungs to pull oxygen from the air, making breathing labored. Because lung function is reduced, sufferers are at risk for comorbid conditions such as tuberculosis and other infectious lung diseases.

How Silicosis Progresses After Repeated Exposures

The severity of the condition depends on the quantity of dust a person is exposed to, and the length of time exposures continue.

Low to moderate levels of exposure over a long period of time — 15 to 20 years generally — results in a chronic form of the condition. In many cases, early symptoms can be mistaken for other conditions, but a chest x-ray will reveal the true cause. Those with the disease will suffer shortness of breath during exercise and may show a reduced ability to transfer oxygen for carbon dioxide. As the disease progresses patients will become easily fatigued, and experience chest pain, painful shortness of breath and possibly respiratory failure.

Accelerated silicosis is caused by heavier exposures. These begin to cause noticeable damage much more rapidly, with major symptoms showing up within five to ten years. Those with accelerated silicosis suffer weakness, weight loss, and a severe shortness of breath.

In response to very heavy exposures, patients will develop acute silicosis. Symptoms can be noticeable within months and include a disabling shortness of breath, weakness, and severe weight loss that can lead to death.

Wood Trim Products Don’t Require Crystalline Silica

A number of artificial trim products on the market are made using crystalline silica. This puts workers at risk for exposure to silica dust. Wood trim products, on the other hand, don’t require crystalline silica at any stage in their production.

Belco Forest Products takes the impact our trim products have on the environment and on our people that produce them very seriously, and we are happy to sell trim that doesn’t involve the use of this dangerous material. If you’re concerned about similar issues, isn’t it time you switched to natural wood trim?

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