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NIOSH releases silica monitoring software

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Washington — NIOSH has unveiled a beta version of an online software tool designed to provide post-shift assessments of mine worker exposure to respirable crystalline silica.

The Field Analysis of Silica Tool uses portable infrared technology to analyze exposure to crystalline silica, a carcinogen found in sand, stone and artificial stone. It can cause silicosis, a chronic disease that involves scarring of the lungs. Other conditions caused by respirable crystalline silica exposure include coal workers’ pneumoconiosis, commonly known as black lung, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

The FAST software provides accurate and immediate readings of respirable crystalline silica levels by accounting for changing mine conditions, NIOSH states.

According to an Oct. 3 press release, results from the beta version of FAST should be considered accurate for samples collected in coal mines. Samples collected in other types of mines are approximations. NIOSH expects further testing to produce future versions of FAST that “will offer improved accuracy for commodity types besides coal, and will also have the potential to be used beyond the mining industry.”

The agency notes that it uses dust sampling containers at mine sites in a way that does not damage them. This allows mine operators to send containers for lab test verification, should they choose.

“FAST provides a vital link for mines seeking better RCS monitoring tools by bringing the laboratory to the field,” Jessica Kogel, associate director for mining at NIOSH, said in the release.

OSHA’s silica standard for general industry and maritime took effect June 23. The agency estimates that 2.3 million workers are exposed to silica dust annually.

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