Silica, also known as quartz, is a naturally occurring mineral. You can find it in all sorts of construction materials, and it is also occasionally used in household products. Microscopic, crystalline particles of quartz called silica dust have been shown to increase your risk of cancer.
That something so small can do so much damage seems hard to believe – so how exactly can silica dust cause cancer?
The Link Between Silica Dust And Cancer
First off, how do we even know it really does cause cancer? We are aware of this link thanks to studies of quarry and granite workers who are routinely exposed to materials containing respirable silica dust. Silica dust is known to most prominently cause lung cancer, and only after sufficient exposure. It can also cause a number of other issues such as silicosis, renal disease, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
What's The Process?
The way that silica dust leads to cancer is both simple and insidious. These small, crystalline particles of silica dust are inhaled into the lungs. When inhaled in sufficient amounts, your bodies natural defenses are overwhelmed by these particles and they make their way deep into the lungs causing cellular damage.
Sometimes, your body can repair these damaged cells. Other times, the damaged cells begin to act abnormally — spreading and causing cancerous tumors.
How Much Exposure Is Too Much?
Every time you are exposed to silica dust there is a chance that it will make its way into your lungs. The damage done can be cumulative over time, so don't assume that you're safe just because you are only exposed to small amounts. Some who are exposed won't develop any symptoms for years — or even decades.
You also shouldn't assume that you're safe because you've only been exposed once or twice. In sufficient amounts, silica dust can overwhelm your bodies natural defenses and do years' worth of damage in a short time.
Remember, silica dust is a hundred times smaller than a grain of sand, so just because you don't see it doesn't mean it's not there! Make sure you take the proper precautions when working with anything that can release this potentially deadly dust including stone, rock, sand, gravel, and clay.
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