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Technology exists to reduce silicosis. Why does industry balk?

Texas and other states in the south and west are known to be arid or semi-arid regions. These areas are more prone to the weather phenomenon known as dust storms. Anyone who has ever been caught in one of these tempests knows it can be disastrous. The particles of fine grit can bite into your skin. And if you should happen to breathe in the dust, it can scar your lungs and cause permanent injury and health problems.

Obviously, these are conditions that are best avoided. But if you happen to work in the oil or gas industry in the state, the chances are good that you face some exposure to them. Sand is a key ingredient in the process of hydraulic fracturing. What that means is that a lot of microscopic but no-less-gritty sand can get kicked up into the air. Workers in the field can't help but breathe the stuff in.

And even if you breathe in what the Occupational Safety and Health Administration currently considers to be acceptable levels, a worker can develop silicosis, lung cancer, kidney disease and face increased risks of tuberculosis.

What makes all of this even worse is that OSHA admits its standards are too high, but it hasn't been able to get them changed. The agency tried to reduce the level by half in 2013, saying that it would save hundreds of lives and prevent hundreds of cases of silicosis every year. But business interests pushed back, calling the move unfeasible and unnecessary.

That isn't a view shared by everyone in industry. As a report by Denver public radio shows, there are many companies that have applied innovative technologies to the problem. And some of them say they not only are improving worker protections, but reducing operating costs to boot.

So the question we find ourselves asking is, what reason will producers give next for why lowering the exposure standards isn't feasible?

Source: I-News, "Silica Poses Health Risk for Oil & Gas Workers, Technology Responds," Anna Boiko-Weyrauch, accessed Dec. 1, 2015

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