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Hydraulic Fracturing and the Risk of Silicosis

Rosenman, Kenneth D. MD

doi: 10.1097/CPM.0000000000000046
Interstitial, Inflammatory and Occupational Lung Disease

“Fracking,” the common name for hydraulic fracturing is widely used to extract oil and gas, particularly from deep shale formations. A single well requires the use of millions of gallons of water and tons of sand. Air sampling results show that the majority of silica levels at hydraulic fracturing sites were above the Occupational Safety and Health Administration allowable standard and 84% were above Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s new proposed standard. These exposure levels put workers, particularly sand mover operators and T-belt operators who had the highest levels, at risk of silicosis and the other silica-related conditions of lung cancer, end-stage renal disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, tuberculosis, and connective tissue disease. Because of the fracking industry’s demand for silica, sand mining has markedly increased, which has also increased the number of workers at risk of developing silicosis and other silica-related conditions in the mining industry. This paper reviews the parts of the country where health care providers should be most concerned about possible patients in their practice who are at risk from this newly recognized source of silica exposure and the appropriate medical testing to perform. However, given the long latency, 20 or more years, of most silica-related health conditions and the fact that fracking did not become widely used until the 2000s, it may be years before health care providers see clinical-related disease in their practices.

Department of Medicine, Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI

Partially funded by National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (Agreement #U60 OH008466).

Disclosure: The author declares that there are no conflicts of interest.

Address correspondence to: Kenneth D. Rosenman, MD, Department of Medicine, Michigan State University, 909 Fee Road, Room 117 West Fee, East Lansing, Michigan 48824. E-mail: rosenman@msu.edu.

© 2014 by Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.