Silicosis from Fracking Sand Finally Getting Some Attention

by Duane Nichols on March 21, 2014

Dust on WV Well Pad

Charleston Gazette Editorial: “Horror of silicosis”

Editorial from the Charleston Gazette, March 19, 2014

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Choking, wheezing sickness and death among U.S. workers who breathe rock dust has declined greatly during the past half-century – but a disturbing number of blue-collar laborers still suffer agonizing silicosis.

The menace is expected to worsen because large amounts of “frac sand” are used at Marcellus Shale horizontal gas wells. The sand is mixed with liquids and pumped into deep strata, to prevent fractures from closing after high pressure splits them. Workers on the surface can encounter clouds of tiny silica particles. West Virginia is up to its neck in the Marcellus boom, and thus at risk.

Currently, Washington hearings are being held on proposed new rules to cut allowable silica exposure in half. The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration says the reduction would save 700 America worker lives per year and prevent 1,600 new cases of silicosis.

Naturally, industry opposes this lifesaving change, claiming that it would be too expensive. But as environmental reporter Ken Ward Jr., pointed out, the crackdown would cost $637 million per year across America – yet it would save an estimated $5.3 billion in medical and other expenses.

U.S. silica rules haven’t been changed since 1971. Since then, more medical research has linked silica to cancer and made other ominous discoveries. We hope the new health reform is enacted.

Silicosis carries a tragic echo in West Virginia because hundreds of workers died of it when the Hawks Nest tunnel was drilled near Gauley Bridge during the Great Depression. Now, that sad episode seems long ago. But Steve White of the Affiliated Construction Trades Foundation told Ward:

“People think those bad old days are over, but the facts are, construction workers still get exposed to silica when they drill rock, cut concrete, brick and stone, and many other tasks.”

Many West Virginians gladly accept hard-hat jobs offered by industry. But they shouldn’t sicken and die from dust at the workplace. The tough new OSHA rules are humane and cost-effective. They should be imposed.


Industry Comments: Limit on silica would hurt fracking industry

From an Article by Katherine Lymn, Jamestown ND Sun, March 19, 2014

DICKINSON, N.D. — A proposed lower limit of silica exposure from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) would drastically affect the hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, industry, a trade group said. The American Petroleum Institute (API) is one of about 80 organizations and industry groups that will speak in Washington, D.C., at hearings stretching from Tuesday through April 4. The hearings are part of the rulemaking process before a rule is made final.

OSHA has proposed cutting the limit of exposure to silica to 50 micrograms of respirable crystalline silica per cubic meter of air as averaged over an eight-hour day. The inhalation of crystalline silica particles can cause silicosis, lung cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and kidney disease, according to OSHA.

Currently, OSHA enforces 40-year-old permissible exposure limits, or PELs, for silica in general industry, construction and shipyards. It estimates the proposed rule, if implemented, would save 700 lives and prevent 1,600 cases of silicosis a year. But industry groups say the rule is not well-researched and that the health effects aren’t sufficiently proven to warrant the new limit.

Exposure to silica is common in construction — airborne silica dust occurs with cutting, sawing, drilling and crushing of concrete, brick and block — and about 1.85 million of the 2.2 million workers exposed to respirable crystalline silica are in the construction trade, OSHA estimates. The rest are exposed through general industry, including about 25,000 in the oil and gas industry. More than 16,000 of those workers are currently exposed above the proposed levels.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce filed its own comments, charging OSHA with building its rule on “a chain of assumptions.” It urged OSHA to withdraw the proposal because employers won’t be able to keep up with the costs not applicable to foreign competitors, chamber spokeswoman Blair Latoff Holmes said in a statement.

Frac site workers are exposed to high concentrations of respirable silica dust as they work with fracturing fluids, according to OSHA. Sources of exposure on the frac jobs include dust ejected from thief hatches on sand movers, released from conveyor belts under the movers, dust generated by truck traffic and created as the sand is dropped into or agitated in the blender hopper, OSHA said in its analysis.

One fracking services company with a large presence in North Dakota, Sandbox Logistics, is testifying in support of the rule because it would be good for business — its product would bring companies in compliance with the proposed rule, spokesman Cameron Oren said. The sandboxes are a gravity-fed way to transport frac sand that nearly eliminate the dust associated with blowing off sand from a trailer to a storage vessel on-site.

OSHA estimated based on its research that 88 percent of frac workers would require more controls to comply with the proposed rule. It recommends compliance through “local exhaust ventilation” systems on thief hatches and conveyors, adding a water misting system and providing operator booths for the most exposed workers.

Submitted by: Duane Nichols,

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

sally foote July 19, 2015 at 2:43 pm

I want to know how much fracking (damage) is present and on the horizon for Wisconsin, especially near La Crosse, as well as West virginia. I live in Illinois and want to move to an area with more outdoor recreation, but not where fracking is present or in the future.



SkyLark Flyover July 21, 2015 at 12:44 am

Dear Sally:

The future will involve much more damage to the land, water consumption and pollution, toxic chemicals, and air pollution.

In Wisconsin the problem is damages to the land by the mining of millions of tons of frack sand. Wisconsin is for sale and is being moved to WV, PA and many other frack sites.

In West Virginia, we have thousands more fracking well pads to come plus thousands of miles of pipelines through gardens, pasture fields and forests. Even the National Forests and other public lands are being destroyed.

Who would move here for outdoor recreation? Many who have are now moving away!


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