Silica Workplace exposures Respiratory conditions

Continuing silicosis deaths are cause for concern, NIOSH says


Washington – Although the number of silicosis deaths has declined in the past decade, the occupational lung disease still kills about 100 people every year, according to a new study from NIOSH.

From 1999 to 2013, silicosis was the underlying or contributing cause of death for 2,065 people, the study states. The number of deaths in 1999 was 185, but fell to 88 by 2011. In 2012 and 2013, 103 and 111 people died due to silicosis, respectively.

Caused by inhaling particles containing crystalline silica, silicosis takes at least 10 years to develop after the first exposure, and death typically does not occur until several years later. Because about 4 percent of silicosis deaths in recent years were among adults younger than 44, researchers are concerned that younger workers may have a higher level of exposure to silica.

“The continuing occurrence of silicosis deaths in young adults and reports of new occupations and tasks that place workers at risk for silicosis underscore the need for strengthening efforts to limit workplace exposure to respirable crystalline silica,” the report’s lead author said in a June 15 NIOSH blog post.

In September 2013, OSHA proposed a rule to revise the agency’s permissible exposure limit for silica to a level NIOSH originally recommended more than 40 years ago. Despite fierce industry opposition, OSHA at press time was continuing to work on a final version of the rule.

The study was published June 19 in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.