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Fracking sand may cause lung issues

The oil extracting process commonly known as fracking has been in the news recently in Colorado because there may be health risks from the chemicals used in the practice. However, workplace safety also appears to be threatened by the fine sand that workers inhale while employed in a fracking field.

One of the most common diseases caused by inhalation of fine silica dust is silicosis, a disease that is known to cause breathing issues and damage to the tissues inside the lungs. Silicosis has long been a known hazard for workers in masonry and mining industries. However, it can take years to develop, so within the relatively new fracking industry there are no known cases, but health experts believe that oilfield workers are suffering from lung damage.

It is believed that the lung damage happens when workers are surrounded by clouds of dust as the sand moves down conveyor belts to be mixed in with the chemicals that are injected into the ground to extract oil from shale rock. Government researchers measured the levels of airborne sand at 11 fracking fields, and all of them had dust levels that exceeded healthy exposure limits. The fracking industry does not deny that the fine sand dust is a hazard, but protests government regulations aimed strictly at their industry.

Inhaling silica dust appears to present potential health risks for oilfield workers. Employees working in the fracking industry who feel they may have lung damage as a result of the silica dust may wish to consult with a physician to determine the possible extent of their injuries. An attorney who has experience in workers' compensation matters can assist a client with the claims process.

Source: The Denver Post, "Fracking sand in oilfields stirs up a serious health risk for workers", Nancy Lofholm, November 12, 2014

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