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Fracking’s dormant health risk

Sand used for fracking is continuing to pose a serious danger to oil field workers, and newly proposed regulations by the government are actually hindering the issue, not helping it, according to Nancy Lofholm of the Denver Post.

Three years ago, government overseers of workplace safety first noted the sand problem and even issued a hazard alert a year later warning workers that high levels of fine quartz sand around fracking operations could lead to silicosis, a disease that damages the inside of the lungs and causes breathing problems, and other lung illnesses. Silicosis has an extended history of being a health hazard within the mining and masonry occupations, and now, it is an ongoing issue in the oil fields. Over the y
ears, however, incidences of silicosis have been lessened through health monitoring and protective measures.

In 2011, industrial hygienist Eric Esswein of the National Institute of Occupational Health and Safety, measured the airborne sand during 11 fracking operations in five different states. Gathering samples from around workers’ heads, the results they found were conclusive that each site had silica-dust levels that exceeded occupational health exposure limits, with some sites exceeding limits by 10 or more times.

Related: Residents air silica sand plant concerns with commissioners

“Risks for silica exposures during hydraulic fracturing appear to be the most important exposure risk based on the work we’ve done to date,” said Esswein.

Encana Corporation, a company that produces, transports and markets natural gas, started taking precautionary measures in 2010 to address the problem of worker exposure to silica. In 2012, Encana even began implementing silica awareness training for its workers. Encana workers are now required to wear respirator masks and to stay out of “no go” zones.

“It has the potential to be a hazard. If it were to go ignored, it could be a serious problem,” said a spokesman for Encana.

Despite that, Encana fracking operations still had airborne silica above Occupational Safety and Health Administration levels since the beginning of 2013.

Perhaps the most dangerous part of getting silicosis is that the most common type of the disease takes at least a decade or more to develop. That could mean hundreds of oil workers right now could be contracting silicosis, yet they don’t even know it.

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