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OSHA Issues Hazard Alert to Frackers

Susan Phillips / StateImpactPA

A worker at a Marcellus Shale natural gas well in Susquehanna County.

The Labor Department issued a warning to workers in the natural gas industry who come in contact with silica to take precautions against continued exposure. A main ingredient of frack fluid is sand, or crystalline silica, which can cause silicosis in people who breath it in. The bulk of exposure occurs when the sand is trucked and transferred. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health took air samples at frack sites in five states, including Pennsylvania.

“Large quantities of silica sand are used during hydraulic fracturing. Sand is delivered via truck and then loaded into sand movers, where it is subsequently transferred via conveyer belt and blended with other hydraulic fracturing fluids prior to high pressure injection into the drilling hole. Transporting, moving, and refilling silica sand into and through sand movers, along transfer belts, and into blender hoppers can release dusts containing silica into the air. Workers can be exposed if they breathe the dust into their lungs.”

Silicosis is a respiratory disease that causes shortness of breath. Silica exposure can also lead to lung cancer, tuberculosis, kidney and autoimmune disease. OSHA has several recommendations, including the use of air monitors, dust control, and having workers wear protective masks.

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