Industry Deals With Dangers Of Fracking Sand

  • A dust mask lies in front of Gilbert Banuelos, as the former factory worker rests after a few minutes of gardening at his Erie, Colo. home. Banuelos' lungs are riddled with scarring from silicosis he says he contracted working at a diatomaceous earth factory in California for 17 years. Photo: Joe Mahoney / Rocky Mountain PBS

September 18, 2015
by Anna Boiko-Weyrauch | Inside Energy

The disease dates back to the ancient Greeks and Romans, but it continues to kill workers today. Oil and gas is the latest industry to face its threat.

Silicosis is an incurable but entirely preventable disease caused by breathing in particles of sand, or respirable crystalline silica. Some particles are invisible to the eye but the perfect size to slice into the lung’s tightest corners. Breathing in too much silica can also cause lung cancer.

Sand is a key ingredient in hydraulic fracturing, but breathing in too much of it can be deadly.

A 2012 alert and study by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health raised an alarm that workers at fracking sites in Colorado and four other states were exposed to silica dust at levels that exceeded occupational exposure limits.

That exposure has not translated into patient diagnoses yet, according to interviews with four experts. But the disease can hide for a decade before causing symptoms. No one knows how many oil and gas workers may have already been exposed.

Still, many companies in the industry have responded by changing the way they handle frack sand. New innovation and investment suggests that a technological fix can protect workers while boosting efficiency. The changes are as much a way to improve operations as to strengthen worker protections.

Continue reading this story at Inside Energy »