Common Sources of Silica
Silica is a term that has been heard by many for a long time. People research it regularly. In fact, searches such as “silica vs. silicone” and “silica free sand” are among the ones we found. The second of those searches reveals that it is often associated with sand. Yet, it is virtually everywhere. That’s why it is important to know about history of silicosis. However in this post we are going to briefly summarize some common sources of silica. Then we will succinctly consider what that means for those working in constructional occupations.
What Is Silica?
Silica is a very common mineral (silicon dioxide) with the chemical formula SiO2. This mineral is composed of silicon and oxygen and is found in quite a number of substances. So many in fact, you might be surprised. It is found in living organisms and non living matter. In fact, it all around us at any given time. Let’s briefly highlight some of the sources of silica to show the ubiquitous nature of this substance.
The Soil Contains Silica
That’s right, soil contains silica. That means your back yard is loaded with it; although quantities vary depending on where and what kind of soil you measure. The question of whether silica was in all types of soil on the planet was asked and answered on Earth Science Stack Exchange. As you can see from the answer posted on that page, it is a common mineral. Let’s consider the next source of silicon dioxide (SiO2); natural stone.
Natural Stone Containing Silica
Another common source of silica is natural stone. Not all natural stone contains the same amount of silicon dioxide. However, many stone materials quarried from nature have enough that there are standards of safety in place by OSHA to protect against lung disease. So what are some natural stone materials that contain silica? One that many people have heard of is granite. Another is quartzite. Both of these natural stone materials contain quartz; which is a form of crystalline silica. However, natural stone materials are not the only sources of silica.
Engineered Quartz (Sound Familiar)
Since engineered quartz is man made, does that mean that it does not contain silica? No. A quick search regarding engineered quartz reveals that it is composed of the mineral quartz. As we mentioned previously, quartz is a form of crystalline silica. Hence, engineered quartz is another source of silica.
Blasting Abrasives Can Contain Silica
The introductory paragraph above used the example “silica free sand” to illustrate the connection between sand and silica. Which, leads us to our next silica source. What is that? Blasting abrasives. Yes one common source of silica is found in the materials used for the occupation of sand blasting. Sand blasters began to be diagnosed with silicosis (a lung disease linked to breathing silica) decades ago. In fact, those diagnoses arguable played a role in the state of the standards for working with respirable crystalline silica today. So it is no surprise that blasting abrasives are one source of silica.
Silica In Cement
Just because cement is not a “stone” per se does not mean that it isn’t comprised of material that contains silica. Cement does in fact contain silica. That’s why this page includes it among the hazards of portland cement under the subheading Inhalation. Occupations where cement is mixed, cut, ground, or drilled should research the standards for controlling crystalline silica.
Silica In Concrete
This will be perhaps the shortest of the paragraphs regarding materials that contain silica. Simply put, concrete and cement are different materials, but cement is an ingredient of concrete. So, concrete contains silica.
Asphalt and Silica
It might surprise you to learn that asphalt pavement contains silica too. In a paper describing an evaluation of respirable crystalline silica exposures from asphalt pavement milling machines, the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Hygiene made the following statement:
The removal of the road surface has the potential to release respirable crystalline silica, to which workers can be exposed.
In short then, asphalt is one of the silica sources.
Does Drywall Contain Silica?
What about ordinary, everyday drywall? does it contain the ubiquitous mineral? You bet it does. Drywall is known also by the names “sheet rock” and “gypsum board”. But whatever you call it, there is silica in the material in some cases. In fact, that is basically what the CDC in an article about Control of Drywall Sanding Dust Exposures.
Silica In Tile?
We may be starting to sound like a broken record here but you can never be too specific when it comes to materials that contain respirable crystalline silica. Why? Because the effects of silicosis are life threatening. What about tile? yes, ceramic tiles and other tile products can be sources of silica dust. Surface Art published a page about the silica standard and includes ceramics in the list of silica sources.
Silica Is Found In Mortar and Grout
Grout and mortar make the list of materials that are known to contain silica for the same reason we included concrete earlier. Namely, because these materials have cement as an ingredient. And although mortar and grout are different from one another as well as concrete, they are similar in the sense that they all have cement in them. And since, as we said earlier, cement contains silica, any material containing cement would logically have silica as well.
Does Brick Contain Silica?
As for those little red stone like chunks of building material that stone masons use for all sorts of tasks, they too represent a risk for silica exposure. Cutting bricks, grinding bricks and even drilling brick can be a job task that generates silica dust. So, if you work with brick and are not familiar with the standards for controlling respirable crystalline silica, be sure to at least research the standards and techniques for protection.
Is Stucco A Substance Containing Silica?
In conclusion, silica is found in many of the common construction materials used for building. Hence, it is a very good practice to be using dust control measures. This is particularly important when working with materials that generate respirable crystalline silica. Why? Because exposure to it can result in one of many forms of silicosis. So if you work with construction materials that generate dust, we recommend that you research silica and its potential affects if inhaled.
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