Silica Hazards in Coal Seam Sites

Work safety issues in the fast growing coal seam gas industry have taken a back seat to the environmental concerns surrounding hydraulic fracturing, otherwise known as fracking.

Now federal agencies in the US, one of the leading countries in coal seam gas production, have voiced concerns about worker health hazards in this fast-growing industry, specifically with regard to potential worker exposure to dust with high levels of respiratory crystalline silica.

According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) employers in hydraulic fracturing operations must take appropriate steps to protect workers from silica exposure. The process of fracking involves injecting large amounts of water, sand and chemicals into the ground at high pressure. They inject a slurry of water, sand and chemicals into the sideways wells to free trapped hydrocarbons.

Recent field studies show that workers at hydraulic fracturing sites may be exposed to airborne dust containing high levels of silica. Hydraulic fracturing sand contains up to 99 percent silica, and breathing silica can cause the lung disease silicosis. While to date Exposure to silica can lead to silicosis, a disease that causes inflammation and scarring of lung tissues and can impair breathing, according to the study.

U.S. energy companies have employed a combination of horizontal drilling and fracking technologies to tap into oil and gas reserves in shale and tight deposits previously viewed as inaccessible

In wide survey of air samples at 11 fracking sites in five states – Arkansas, Colorado, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, and Texas – NIOSH found 47 percent of samples showed silica exposures greater than the Permissible Exposure Limit (PEL), while 79 percent showed silica exposures greater than the NIOSH Recommended Exposure Limit (REL). Some 31 percent of all samples showed silica exposures 10 or more times the REL, with one sample more than 100 times the REL.

US Authorities have recommended the use of protective gear and alternative proppants like ceramics, resin-coated sand and bauxite, where feasible.



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Safety Concepts is an online resource providing up to date insights and covering issues in the field of Workplace Safety.

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