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Sunday, August 11, 2013

Respirators Are Not Enough: New Study Examines Worker Exposure to Silica in Hydraulic Fracturing Operations

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A new study, “Occupational Exposures to Respirable Crystalline Silica During Hydraulic Fracturing,” found respirable crystalline silica, a human lung carcinogen, to be an occupational exposure hazard for workers at hydraulic fracturing (fracking) operations. Researchers also found that the most commonly used type of respirator – the half-mask air-purifying respirator – might not provide enough protection for workers.

The study, published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Hygiene (JOEH) July issue, is the first systematic investigation of worker exposure to crystalline silica during directional drilling and fracking operations, a process used to stimulate well production in the oil and gas industry.

Field researcher from the NIOSH Western States Office (WSO) and the Division of Applied Research and Technology (DART) collected 111 personal breathing zone samples at 11 sites in five states over a 15-month period to evaluate exposures to respirable crystalline silica during fracking operations.

“Certain work in this industry requires employees to be in areas where respirable silica levels may exceed defined occupational exposure limits like the OSHA Permissible Exposure Limit or the NIOSH Recommended Exposure Limits [RELs],” said researcher Michael Breitenstein, who is with the NIOSH DART in Cincinnati. “However, our study found that in some cases, full shift personal breathing zone exposures exceeded 10 times the...
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