Silica Exposure at Fracking Sites

What is crystalline silica?

Crystalline silica is a mineral which can be found in sand, rock, concrete, stone, etc. It becomes respirable during common activities such as cutting, crushing and drilling. We have been aware of its potentially fatal effects for years (take, for example, this short film put out by the Department of Labor in 1938), and the possible outcomes due to overexposure such as silicosis, lung cancer, COPD and more. Today, OSHA says it is considered a threat to almost 2 million US workers.

Hey Paul Studios via Compfight cc
Hey Paul Studios via Compfight cc

What is hydraulic fracturing?

Hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” involves the injection of water, chemical and sand underground in order to break apart rock and release natural gas. It is an effective process, utilized in nine out of ten natural gas wells in the US, but the workers at these sites are at a high risk for exposure to crystalline silica above the permissible exposure limits due to the abundance of dust.

Enter: The Mini-Baghouse Retrofit Assembly

NIOSH released an update on November 4, 2015 stating a prototype of the mini-baghouse retrofit assembly was tested and found to be effective in controlling dust emissions from thief hatches atop sand movers at hydraulic fracturing sites. This is great news for workers. According to the NIOSH update, “The mini-baghouse reduced the amount of airborne respirable crystalline silica by 79-99%.”

To find out more about the assembly and see a photo, take a look at the NIOSH update found here. To find out more about limiting silica exposure in the workplace, take a look at OSHA’s helpful fact sheet here.