Black Lung Disease Linked to Silica Exposure?

Apr 19, 2022

A recent study published by the American Thoracic Society (ATC) revealed that the driving force for black lung disease is respirable crystalline silica (RCS) dust exposure. Until recently there was limited direct evidence of linking RCS to black lung disease, fibrosis of the lungs caused by coal dust exposure. This blog will discuss RCS, how it impacts more than just miners and what can be done to control exposure.

What is Crystalline Silica?

Silica is a common mineral found on the earth’s crust and in materials such as sand, concrete, and stone. Common rock types that contain crystalline silica are sandstone, granite, and clay. In addition to mining, RCS exposures are common in construction, hydraulic fracturing and countertop finishing.

Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

How is Silica Dust Harmful?

Crystalline silica can cause severe health effects when inhaled. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), respirable crystalline silica (RCS) can be over a hundred times smaller than a piece of sand and is linked to silicosis, kidney disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and lung cancer. Silicosis refers to Pulmonary Fibrosis of the lung from silica exposure. Over 2.3 million Americans are exposed to silica each year due to work related activities.

How Can Silica Dust Be Controlled?

RCS exposure can be controlled if the right systems are in place during hazardous work activities. The first step is administrative controls such as training and silica hazard awareness. The next is engineering controls such as using wet methods to keep dust concentrations low. The last line of defense against RCS exposure is personal protective equipment (PPE) including respirators suitable for silica exposure.

How Is Silica Exposure Impacting Miners?

The recent epidemiological study of miners shows a link between exposure to RCS and black lung disease. The study compared workers born between 1910 and 1930 and to those born after 1930 with severe forms of black lung disease. The study showed 57% of workers born after 1930 had significantly higher concentrations of silica related lung fibrosis, while those born before were at 18%.


An environmental consultant such as Indoor Science can help design controls or monitor personnel to confirm RCS exposure is prevented. Whether mining, construction, hydraulic fracturing, countertop finishing, or others, RCS exposures are everywhere. You want to ensure safety and limit liability when it comes to your employees.