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July 31, 2012
OSHA/NIOSH hazard alert warns of fracking risks of silica exposure

OSHA and NIOSH have issued a hazard alert to ensure that employers in hydraulic fracturing operations (fracking) protect workers from silica exposure.

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Fracking is the process of releasing petroleum, natural gas, or other materials for extraction. It involves the creation of fractures into reservoir rock formations. Recent advancements in drilling have led to new fractures that were not previously available for exploration.

Because large quantities of silica sand are used during hydraulic fracturing, NIOSH began an effort in 2010 to collect data regarding silica exposure during such work. The research identified seven primary sources of silica dust exposure and found that workers downwind of sand mover and blender operations had the highest exposures.

According to OSHA, workers who breathe silica day after day are at greater risk for silicosis, a disease that causes inflammation and scarring and reduces the lungs’ ability to take in oxygen.

Silica can also cause lung cancer and has been linked to other diseases.

The alert addresses reducing exposure through a combination of engineering controls, work practices, protective equipment, and product substitution.

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