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OSHA Hearing Examines Silica Dust Risks in Fracking

April 14, 2014

OSHA wrapped up nearly three weeks of hearings on a proposed rule to limit workers' exposure to silica dust. Hydraulic fracturing was one of the industry exposures examined, along with general construction, masonry, and foundries.

Silica dust is connected to respiratory illnesses and silicosis, an incurable chronic lung disease. Celeste Monforton, a professorial lecturer at George Washington University School of Public Health, testified. She said safety regulations were first recommended back in 1974, and even this rule will take up to two years before it is put in place. "So, it's really a national disgrace that we allow exposures to silica dust that are so high," said Monforton.

Monforton says the people at most risk are also the most vulnerable: immigrants, people who don’t speak English and contract workers. Industry groups testified against the rule, saying that deaths from silicosis have declined. Monforton says it is estimated that the rule will save 700 lives a year.

At the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health, Peter Dooley, health and safety project consultant testified that workers often don’t know that the dust they’re inhaling can cause lifelong disabilities.

Dan Neal, executive director of the Equality State Policy Center, testified in favor of the rule, saying history shows that industries won’t meet limits on their own, conduct monitoring, offer medical surveillance, or provide training.

Exposure limits mean that businesses would have to use methods to reduce dust at work sites, which can be done with water, air, vacuum systems, or worker respirators. This reports coming from the Wyoming News Service.

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