Silica is a compound that exists abundantly in human constructions. This compound can be released into the air when drilling, chasing, jackhammering or otherwise breaking up concrete constructions or bitumen roads. Excavation sites boring into clay or granite also releases this dust into the air.
When these compounds enter the lungs they cause a condition called silicosis, in which the small particles of silica dust enter the lungs and cause scarring in the delicate tissues. The lungs then lose their flexibility making proper inhalation a difficult task. Once this scarring has developed, there is no recovery and the condition is permanent.
This condition was first brought to light in the 1700s, when a medical scholar named Isbrand van Diemerbroeck, made this observation when performing an autopsy on deceased stonecutters. “Their lungs contained so much sand, “he commented, “that dissecting the pulmonary vesicles was like running my blade through a sandbag”. In 1994, a pathologist also commented on a set of lungs that were, “hard as rocks and did not yield to the blade of the scalpel”. These belonged to a patient who died from silicosis.
Breathing in this dust also increases the chances of other complications, respiratory conditions being the most prominent. Tuberculosis is also a much greater condition when laced with silicosis. Studies have shown that construction workers are at a greater risk of developing lung conditions.
Dangers of Dust
Overexposure to dust of all types has led to the condition called asthma. Even very low-toxicity dust, like gypsum and marble, have been known to cause this unpleasant condition. Asthmatic conditions are long-lasting and must be closely monitored. Some of the most common symptoms include shortness of breath, difficulty breathing, uncontrollable coughing (especially when exercising or laughing) and a wheezing sound when inhaling and exhaling.
Intensive and prolonged exposures to RCS (Respirable Crystalline Silica) is almost certain to result in silicosis. As described, silicosis is the scarring of lung tissue which leads to hardening and lack of breathability. Symptoms include the quick loss of breath even after moving short distances or walking up a flight of steps. This condition will often set in a few years after prolonged exposure to these compounds even n low concentrations
Accelerated silicosis can occur after someone has been exposed to higher levels of silica and the symptoms can take as long as five to 10 years to fully mature.
Acute silicosis occurs when exposed to very high amounts of silica in a very short amount of time. The symptoms of these conditions can develop within a few weeks to a couple of years after exposure.
Once this condition develops it is irreversible and the patient is most often restricted to their homes or beds and dying fairly early of heart failure.
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
This term is used to describe several conditions characterized by a narrowing of the air passages. Some conditions included in COPD are emphysema, chronic airway obstruction, bronchitis and bronchiectasis. The symptoms of COPD include shortness of breath, wheezing, coughing as well as increased levels of phlegm and sputum. Some of the side effects can include reduced appetite, swollen ankles and occasionally weight loss. Whereas the air passages of an asthmatic will be suddenly constricted, COPD causes this narrowing all the time.
While its role is still being debated within the medical community, RCS has been linked to lung cancers. According to the statistics posted by the Imperial College London, around 800 people each year die due to overexposure to RCS, and many more cases are diagnosed each year.
In addition to respiratory issues, silicosis has been linked to kidney diseases, arthritis and tuberculosis. Read more.