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Fracking could pose hidden respiratory risks for workers

Residents of Pittsburgh may have recently learned that according to new studies spearheaded by workplace safety experts, the silica dust that is released in the fracking process may act as a severe workplace hazard to extraction personnel. Hydraulic fracturing relies on sand, water and chemicals to open up cracks in oil-rich earth and release oil and gas. The machines that transport the sand generate huge clouds of respirable silica dust.

The inhalation of silica dust has long been known to cause serious illnesses like cancer or silicosis. These work-related injuries and syndromes can have effects that last for decades. Researchers working for the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health, or NIOSH, were surprised to find that even though workers used protective respirators on the job, about 33 percent of the air samples they obtained bore higher amounts of silica than such safety gear could effectively filter. Almost 80 percent of atmospheric samples drawn from 11 fracking sites in five different states exceeded established NIOSH limitations.

Although fracking companies are now employing new methods to contain silica and limit worker exposure, the fact that related diseases like cancer and can silicosis can lie dormant for years means that workers who are just now getting injured may not even know it until much later. Some of the workplace changes being implemented may not arrive in time for such individuals.

On-the-job injuries that occur at worksites where heavy machinery or hazardous chemicals are utilized can be very severe. Many victims of improper worksite practices find themselves saddled with high medical bills or the inability to work because of their symptoms. As a result, injured employees often seek legal assistance to secure compensation.

Source: KPLU 88.5, "Sand from fracking could pose lung disease risk to workers," Nell Greenfieldboyce, April 1, 2013

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