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This information was reviewed and approved by 11/12019, Cecile S. Rose, MD, MPH

What is silicosis?

Silicosis is a scarring disease of the lungs caused by inhaling fine particles of crystalline silica dust.  Silica dust particles can trigger an inflammatory reaction that leads to the formation of lung nodules and scars. These changes can lead to loss of lung function. The disease typically takes 5–20 years to appear after first exposure. Chronic dry cough and shortness of breath are early symptoms of the disease. Silicosis can worsen over time, especially with continued dust exposure. There is no cure for silicosis, so prevention is essential. 


Who gets silicosis?

Natural stone sources of crystalline silica include sandstone, quartz, and granite. Engineered (artificial) stone typically contains high concentrations of crystalline silica. People who work in the following industries may have exposure to silica dust:

  • Engineered stone fabrication   
  • Concrete mixing and cutting           
  • Sandblasting  
  • Brick and stone cutting
  • Foundry work
  • Construction  
  • Metal mining
  • Fracking (natural gas extraction)


What other diseases are associated with exposure to respirable silica dust?


Silicosis is an old disease? Why is this important now?

Exposure to silica dust has been known to cause silicosis for centuries, yet many cases continue to occur in the United States and worldwide. More than 2 million people in the U.S. are exposed to silica dust at work. The latest (2017) Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) Silica Standard has specific requirements for screening workers based on exposure levels to silica dust.

There are a number of ways to control exposure to silica and keep dust levels low so people are not at risk. Ventilation systems and other engineering controls can be used to minimize dust exposure. Wet methods attached to equipment for grinding, cutting, sawing and polishing often keep dust levels low. Good cleaning practices like avoiding dry sweeping of dust containing silica and use of approved respirators are other possible strategies for minimizing exposure. 

There is no cure for silicosis, but it is preventable. If workers are diagnosed with silicosis, they must be removed from exposure to minimize the risk for progression of lung disease and other disease complications of silica exposure.


What resources are available for silicosis patients?

If you have questions about silicosis, you can call the toll free number for the National Jewish Health Center of Excellence for Silicosis and Its Prevention at 877.255.5864.


Our Specialists

  • Jeremy T. Hua

    Jeremy T. Hua, MD, MPH

  • Richard Kraus

    Richard Kraus, PA-C

  • Silpa D. Krefft

    Silpa D. Krefft, MD, MPH

  • Cecile S. Rose

    Cecile S. Rose, MD, MPH

  • Kalie M. VonFeldt

    Kalie M. VonFeldt, PA-C, MS