“When was your last chest x-ray?” is a not a question many people hear at their place of work. But in the world of well stimulation, health concerns from frac sand dust are real. Chest x-rays are a standard test for workers in dusty environments with high levels of  airborne silica, which can cause serious lung damage. Before starting a job in the industry, frac site workers are recommended to complete a chest x-ray, which is repeated at least every 3 years.

But it’s just dust – it doesn’t seem like a big deal. That’s what people used to think, and that attitude is why so many people used to die from a disease called silicosis. We know a lot more now – but exposure to silica can still happen, whether on the job or near the worksite.

Silica itself is just a mineral that is part of sand, rock, and quartz. When workers inhale silica, though, it becomes trapped in their lungs. Over time, the inflamed lung tissue becomes scarred and develops nodules of extra tissue around the trapped particles. The resulting condition is silicosis. If the nodules continue to grow, it becomes difficult to breathe – this leads to even more serious diseases, including tuberculosis or lung cancer. Death may be the ultimate result.

Silicosis mostly affects workers exposed to silica dust in occupations like mining, glass manufacturing, and sandblasting. We now know that workers on frac sites are also at risk, because frac sand contains up to 99% silica. Since sand is continually stirred up as it is moved around frac sites, workers often complete their duties in the middle of clouds of this hazardous dust. Even with PPE and safety precautions, medical monitoring is recommended to make sure workers are properly protected from the hazard created by silica.

So, when was your last chest x-ray? And what was the result?