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Fracking Well Workers Exposed to Dangerous Levels of Silica Sand

Aug 12, 2013

Workers at active hydraulic fracturing (fracking) wells across the U.S. face another danger, researchers have found.

A new study from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) found that workers at a fracking well are exposed to the possibility of inhaling dust from crystalline silica sand. The study looked at exposure rates at 11 fracking sites in five states and included 111 “personal breathing zone” samples collected. NIOSH found that silica levels were above the safe standard it had established at each of the sites included in the study.

Inhaling dangerous amounts of silica sand can lead to numerous health problems that could plague fracking well workers for years and ultimately cause their death. The study found that excessive silica exposure could cause silicosis, lung cancer, autoimmune disorders, kidney disease, and an increased risk of tuberculosis. Researchers noted that between 2000 and 2005 there were at least 162 deaths blamed on exposure to excessive silica sand at the workplace.

The study found that the silica sand exposure facing fracking well workers is an occupational hazard and needs to be addressed by well operators. Precautions should be taken to reduce the exposure to silica sand at an active fracking well. Study authors suggest substituting products used in the fracking process whenever possible. At seven points during the fracking process, study authors identified areas where workers are exposed to silica sand. “Companies that conduct hydraulic fracturing using silica sand should evaluate their operations to determine the potential for worker exposure to respirable crystalline silica and implement controls as necessary to protect workers,” the study notes.

We’ve reported on the many dangers posed by fracking wells for several years, since a boom in drilling activity spiked several years ago in the Mid-Atlantic region. Pennsylvania has thousands of active fracking wells, and lawmakers in New York are poised to open their land to fracking wells in the very near future.

Based on our reports, fracking wells not only pose threats to the local environment and natural resources, but also to the workers at active fracking wells. Toxic and dangerous materials are stored and shipped to and from these well sites daily. Combine that with sometimes substandard fracking wells and workers face risks not only from dangerous well blowouts but also from toxic exposure, as shown in this latest study.

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