What is Silica?

Crystalline silica is a common mineral found in the earth’s crust. Materials like sand, stone, concrete,
and mortar contain crystalline silica. It is also used to make products such as glass, pottery, ceramics,
bricks, and artificial stone.

Respirable crystalline silica – very small particles at least 100 times smaller than ordinary sand you
might find on beaches and playgrounds – is created when cutting, sawing, grinding, drilling, and
crushing stone, rock, concrete, brick, block, and mortar. Activities such as abrasive blasting
with sand; sawing brick or concrete; sanding or drilling into concrete walls; grinding mortar;
manufacturing brick, concrete blocks, stone countertops, or ceramic products; and cutting
or crushing stone result in worker exposures to respirable crystalline silica dust. Industrial
sand used in certain operations, such as foundry work and hydraulic fracturing (fracking),
is also a source of respirable crystalline silica exposure. About 2.3 million people in the U.S.
are exposed to silica at work.

Workers who inhale these very small crystalline silica particles are at increased risk of
developing serious silica-related diseases, including:

  • Silicosis, an incurable lung disease that can lead to disability and death;
  • Lung cancer;
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD); and
  • Kidney disease.