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Silica Exposure Injuries

While it is not a new process, hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” has become far more widespread recently. Without question, this process requires the use and handling of many chemicals and agents known to be dangerous and deadly. And while other hazards in the oil and gas industry are well-established, the effects of silica (sand) dust exposure on the workers in the oil patch are becoming more concerning.

Hydraulic fracturing involves the use of large quantities of silica sand to “stimulate” well production. The sand is used to prop open little fissures in the shale and allow for the release of hydrocarbons after the formation is fractured. The entire process, from beginning to end, can result in significant silica exposure for workers in oil and gas drilling and hydraulic fracturing. Workers in the oil and gas industry are constantly exposed to silica dust through various jobs including the following tasks: refilling and emptying the trucks moving the silica sand to the fracking location; filling and refilling sand movers with silica sand and moving them down a conveyor belt; refilling the blender hoppers; and being on location during the fracturing of a well.

Workers who have been exposed to silica dust are at greater risk for a number of serious inhalation injuries from silica, including silicosis, which usually develops when particles of silica dust get into the lungs and cause scarring and hardening of lung tissue. Signs of the early stages of the disease can include shortness of breath, a chronic cough, and a fever. Late stage silicosis is usually marked by a worsening of those symptoms, plus a chronic inability to breathe, chest pain, chronic fatigue and weight loss, and respiratory failure.

Silicosis is incurable, and usually requires many years of medical treatment to manage, including medications and oxygen treatments. In some extreme cases, a lung transplant may be necessary. Silicosis can also lead to tuberculosis and even lung cancer. The CDC estimate that silicosis kills hundreds each year, and disables hundreds more.

Workers who are exposed to silica stand are also at significantly greater risk for developing chronic bronchitis, which is also known as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). COPD can persist for months or years, causing a heavy cough, headaches, chronic fatigue, shortness of breath, and respiratory infections.  If you or a loved one has been sickened or developed silicosis or other breathing problems, and you suspect exposure to silica dust as a result of the hydraulic fracturing process may be the reason, you should speak to a lawyer about your legal options. Call the Hill Law Firm in San Antonio today if you have questions.