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Research shows fracking could cause lung disease in workers

Fracking, formally known as hydraulic fracturing, is the process of removing natural gas by drilling and injecting fluid into the ground at a high pressure so that it fractures shale rocks. Although fracking has been praised as being an innovative process that could have economic rewards, it has also been highly criticized for being dangerous to the environment as well as workers.

Recently, NPR released a story about a workplace safety expert who has studied the harmful effects fracking can have on workers. The safety expert said he originally wanted to study possible chemical hazards for oil and gas workers, which he figured would come from the workers' exposure to substances such as drilling fluids. But once on the fracking site, he saw that the true danger was the dust.

Fracking sites are extremely dusty because huge amounts of sand are used in the process. In fact, a sand mixture is what is used to keep open the cracks dilled into the ground so that the oil and gas can be released. The problem is that sand is made mostly of silica, which has long been a known workplace hazard that can cause lung diseases like siliocisis and cancer.

The federal government has set guidelines on how much silica workers can be exposed to, the question is, are fracking companies following these rules? The safety expert and his team traveled to 11 fracking sites in five states, including Texas. What they found was that 79 percent of the air samples collected at the sites had higher than the recommended amount of silica content.

Even though workers at all of the sites wore respirators, the safety experts said the silica concentration was so high at some of the sites that they were not enough to protect the worker. Partially because of this discovery, government officials are working to more strictly limit the amount of silica workers can be exposed to.

Unfortunately, for some workers it could be too late. Workers who suffer from illnesses caused by silica exposure may have a personal injury claim against their employers. Of course, it could be years before the damage shows up in the workers, but this research can be used as evidence that fracking can lead to lung diseases and cancer.

Source: NPR, "Sand From Fracking Could Pose Lung Disease Risk To Workers," Nell Greenfieldboyce, March 29, 2013

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