Eurosil - The European Association of Industrial Silica Producers

1.9. What is silicosis?

Silicosis is one of the world’s oldest known occupational diseases and is caused by the inhalation of respirable crystalline silica (Stacey P. 2005).

It is one of the most common types of pneumoconiosis. It is a nodular progressive fibrosis caused by the deposition in the lungs of fine respirable particles of crystalline silica.

Silicosis is an occupational disease, meaning that it only affects people exposed in the workplace. Environmental exposures to silica dust are much lower than those encountered in the workplace and are not sufficiently high to cause this occupational disease.

Future cases of silicosis can be reduced by implementing appropriate measures to reduce exposure to silica-containing dusts. Such measures include improved work practices, engineering controls, respiratory protective equipment and training programmes.

The disease has a long latency period. The new cases of silicosis registered today are due to exposure of three or four decades ago. 

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Silicosis is a commonly known health hazard, which has been associated historically with the inhalation of silica-containing dust (Fubini 1998).

Silicosis is one of the most common types of pneumoconiosis. It is a nodular progressive fibrosis caused by the deposition in the lungs of fine respirable particles of crystalline silica.

The resulting scarring of the innermost parts of the lungs can lead to breathing difficulties and, in some cases, death. Larger (non-respirable) particles are more likely to settle in the main airways of the respiratory system and may be cleared by mucus action (HSE 1998).

Silicosis can vary greatly in its severity, from “simple silicosis” to “progressive massive fibrosis”. Generally, three types of silicosis are described in literature (EUR 14768; INRS 1997):

  • Acute silicosis occurs as a result of extremely high exposure to respirable crystalline silica over a relatively short period of time (within 5 years). The condition causes rapidly progressive breathlessness and death, usually within months of onset
  • Accelerated silicosis can develop within 5 to 10 years of exposure to high levels of respirable crystalline silica
  • Chronic silicosis is often described as the result of exposure to lower levels of respirable crystalline silica, occurring over longer periods of time (exposure duration greater than 10 years)

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