What is Crystalline Silica?
According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), , crystalline silica is an abundant natural mineral found in stone, soil, and sand. It is also found in construction materials such as concrete, brick, and mortar. Quartz dust is respirable crystalline silica, which means it can be inhaled while breathing.
What's the Problem?
Exposure to silica is a serious threat to nearly 2 million workers in the U.S., according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). This includes more than 100,000 workers in high-risk jobs such as those working in the construction industry or with construction materials.
Specifically, sandblasting practices release silica in unnatural ways. As a result, construction workers risk developing occupational diseases including silicosis or “sandblasting disease” which may require a lung transplant from inhaling silica dust.
If you have been injured by silica exposure from dust during your job and have developed accelerated silicosis, mesothelioma, asbestosis, or lung cancer, immediately seek the help of a silica exposure lawyer at Schmidt & Clark, LLP. We will help you get the recovery you deserve in your silica exposure lawsuit.
What is Silicosis?
Silicosis is an incurable disease that affects workers injured by silica exposure in occupations such as mining, glass manufacturing, and foundry work, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration . Exposure occurs, scarring in the lung tissue, which can harm a person's ability to breathe.
Types of Silicosis
There are 3 types of silicosis:
- Acute Silicosis - Causes cough, weight loss, and fatigue within a few weeks or years of exposure to inhaled silica.
- Chronic Silicosis - Affects upper lung areas, causing extensive scarring. Silicosis symptoms appear after 10-30 years of silica exposure.
- Accelerated Silicosis - Occurs within 10 years of high-level exposure to silica.
Can Lungs Heal From Silicosis?
Unfortunately, There's no cure for silicosis because it is impossible to reverse the lung damage. Treatment for silicosis is designed to relieve symptoms and improve quality of life. Silicosis may continue to get worse over time, leading to further lung damage and serious disability, although this may happen very slowly over many years.
Does Silica Stay in Your Lungs Forever?
Once you breathe silica dust in, it can go deep into your lungs and stay there - permanently scarring and damaging the lung tissue. Breathing silica for a prolonged period of time can eventually lead to severe lung diseases including emphysema, bronchitis, and silicosis.
What is the Life Expectancy of a Person with Silicosis?
After silicosis has been diagnosed, the condition typically gets worse over time. Individuals suffering from accelerated silicosis may progress to progressive massive fibrosis in 4 to 5 years. Most people diagnosed with silicosis lose approximately 11.6 years of life.
Is Silicosis Worse Than Asbestos?
Silica dust is just as lethal as asbestos. Both silica and asbestos contain crystalline silica, specifically quartz and cristobalite. Therefore, both asbestos and silica are dangerous to human health, as occupational exposure can result in asbestosis and silicosis.
Silicosis in Engineered Stone Fabrication Workers: CDC Report
At least 18 cases of silicosis, including 2 deaths, have been reported among stone fabrication workers in 4 states, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) . The agency also found several cases of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and latent tuberculosis infection in workers of the same trade.
CDC warned that "given the serious occupational health hazard and a significant number of workers at risk, additional efforts are needed to reduce exposures and improve disease surveillance."
Related Article: Oil Rig Injury Accident Attorney
Lung Cancer Symptoms
- Severe shortness of breath
- Chest pain
- Abnormal chest X-rays
- Slow-developing cough
- Difficulty breathing
- Chronic bronchitis
- Respiratory failure
- Night sweats
- Leg swelling
- Low blood oxygen levels
- Bluish discoloration of the lips (cyanosis)
- Weight loss
Source: American Lung Association
Which Occupations Are at Risk of Silica Exposure?
Occupations that are known to expose workers to health problems from inhaled crystalline silica particles include:
- Coal mining
- Oil industry workers
- Masonry workers
- Hard rock mining
- Construction work
- Railroad workers
- Tunnel work
- Glass manufacturing
- Ceramics work
- Steel industry work
- Stone cutting
Source: CHEST Foundation 
Is There a Cure for Silica Dust Exposure?
There is no cure for chronic silicosis or chronic bronchitis; however, health problems can be prevented. Treatment for silicosis focuses on the management of symptoms.
Once acute silicosis has developed, the patient's doctor will assess the degree of lung damage with tests. Some patients may require urgent treatment with oxygen and support for difficulty breathing. Others may need prescription medications such as inhaled steroids or bronchodilators to decrease sputum production and relax the air tubes.
How Often is Silicosis Fatal?
More than 200 workers die from silicosis each year in the United States, while hundreds more become disabled from the condition. Many workers diagnosed with silicosis are only in their thirties; some are even in their twenties. Many of them are unable to take care of themselves and their families.
A History of Silica Litigation
Regulators have been aware of health problems from silica dust exposure since at least the 1930s. Since then, the United States has experienced several waves of silica and silicosis litigation as a result of the evolving understanding of exposure routes and dangers.
Pre-Hawk's Nest Litigation | Early 1930s
In the 1930s, national awareness of silicosis increased, creating an influx of silica exposure lawsuits. Silicosis patients and families of employees who died of silicosis filed suit and received large settlements from suppliers and employers in dusty trades.
During this time period, insurers covering silica-using companies found themselves inundated with lawsuits and claims.
The lawsuits became such a burden that insurers began lobbying for silicosis coverage under workers' compensation. They hoped to offset the burden of silica litigation and settlements by providing compulsory--but limited--coverage through workers' compensation.
Related Article: Complete List of Oil Refineries in Texas
The Hawk's Nest Disaster | 1931-1936
On the heels of the first wave of silica litigation in the 1930s, an industrial disaster raised the silicosis profile even higher.
In the mid-1930s, The Union Carbide Corporation wanted to drill a tunnel through Hawk's Nest Mountain in West Virginia. According to company records, 2,000 employees worked on this project with little to no safety equipment to protect their lungs.
Union Carbide knew the mountain was made of pure silica and that drilling silica posed grave health risks to employees in the area.
700 laborers died while drilling the tunnel, and Union Carbide buried them in unmarked graves on the side of the road. As a result, 538 workers--or their families--filed lawsuits against Union Carbide.
By the end of 1937, 46 states had passed silicosis safety laws, many of which provided workers' compensation coverage for silica-related workplace injuries.
The Oil Boom and Silicosis | The 1970s-2000s
According to one expert, business and environmental safety experts declared silicosis a problem of the past by the 1950s. As a result, public awareness of the dangers of silica decreased.
Simultaneously, new industries began employing hundreds of thousands of workers in silica-heavy occupations. Shipyards, oil rigs, and oil refineries all dedicated personnel to countless hours of sandblasting.
Sandblasters become the second wave of silica lawsuits in the 1970s-2000s.
Throughout the 1970s, several regulatory bodies began enacting and tightening regulations in order to protect workers from the dangers of breathing silica dust.
Related Article: Oil Field Accident & Injury Lawsuit
OSHA Silica Dust Regulations
OSHA has established a Permissible Exposure Limit (PEL) on the maximum amount of crystalline silica to which workers may be exposed during an 8-hour work shift (29 CFR 1926.55, 1910.1000). The agency also requires hazard communication training for workers exposed to silica and requires a respirator program until engineering controls are implemented.
How to Protect Against Crystalline Silica Exposure
- Replace crystalline silica materials with safer substitutes, whenever possible.
- Provide engineering or administrative controls, where feasible, such as local exhaust ventilation, and blasting cabinets.
- Use all available work practices to control dust exposures.
- Wear only an N95 NIOSH-certified respirator, if respirator protection is required.
- Wear only a Type CE abrasive-blast supplied air respirator for abrasive blasting.
- Wear disposable or washable work clothes.
- Vacuum the dust from your clothes or change into clean clothing before leaving the work site.
- Participate in training, exposure monitoring, and health screening and surveillance programs to monitor any adverse health effects caused by crystalline silica exposures.
- Be aware of the operations and job tasks creating crystalline silica exposures in your workplace environment and know how to protect yourself.
Can I Sue for Silicosis?
Anyone exposed to silica dust or other human lung carcinogen who has been diagnosed with silicosis or another silica disease may be eligible to file a lawsuit. Depending on the nature and serious medical conditions of silica exposure, individuals may be able to sue one or more of the following:
Individuals suffering from silicosis as a result of faulty tools, materials, or safety equipment may be able to file a product liability claim. In this type of lawsuit, the individual would sue the equipment manufacturer for breach of warranty, defective product design, or negligence.
If a manager instructed an employee to work in unsafe environmental conditions or without safety equipment, exposing the employee to silica dust, the employee may be able to obtain legal damages from their employer.
What Compensation Could I Be Awarded?
Compensation from a silica lawsuit can be approximated based on other lawsuits that deal with toxic exposure. Depending on the circumstances, a plaintiff may choose to seek compensatory damages for any of the following reasons:
- A plaintiff may seek damages to cover the cost of medical expenses.
- A plaintiff may seek damages to cover lost wages or employee benefits.
- A plaintiff may seek damages to cover the loss of consortium.
- A plaintiff may seek damages to cover pain and suffering endured from toxic exposure and related health conditions.
In addition to compensatory damages, a plaintiff filing a silicosis lawsuit may choose to seek punitive damages to financially punish an employer or manufacturer who failed to disclose the health risks associated with silica dust.
Is There a Class Action?
At this time, the law firm of Schmidt & Clark, LLP, is not pursuing a class action claim on behalf of individuals who have been diagnosed with silicosis.
However, this doesn't mean you're out of luck if you were injured by exposure to silica dust. Our lawyers are now accepting potential individual claims for injured parties. Contact us today to learn more about your legal rights.
See all related toxic tort lawsuits our attorneys covered so far.
Get a Free Silicosis Lawsuit Evaluation With Our Lawyers
The Product Liability Litigation Group at Schmidt & Clark, LLP law firm is an experienced team of trial lawyers that focus on the representation of plaintiffs in silicosis lawsuits. We are handling individual litigation nationwide and currently accepting new injury and death cases in all 50 states.
If you or a loved one has been injured after being exposed to silica dust, you should contact our law firm immediately. You may be entitled to a settlement by filing a suit for developing silicosis and we can help.