Using Crystalline Silica Safely

Juli Ferguson
February 26, 2019

Crystalline silica is a mineral made up of silicon and oxygen, two of the most common elements on the planet. It is so common that it makes up more than 12% of the earth’s crust, and is present in almost every type of rock.

Products containing crystalline silica have been used for thousands of years to build and make things, and are still key elements of essentials we use on a daily basis – our computers and phones, cars and buses, roads and railways, glass and ceramics, and even our homes.

In these everyday contexts, crystalline silica is completely safe. However, where it can negatively impact health is in industrial workplaces. Whilst crystalline silica itself is inert, when minerals or rocks containing it are cut, ground, drilled, or used in similar industrial processes, dust may be produced. Some of these dust particles are very fine – known as Respirable Crystalline Silica or RCS. If high quantities of this very fine dust are inhaled on a regular basis over many years, there is a risk that the cumulative impact can cause lung diseases. Not all products containing crystalline silica generate RCS dust under these conditions, including glass and ceramics. However, most high energy industrial processes involving raw materials like rock and unprocessed clay generally do.

In 2017 the Advisory Committee on Safety and Health at Work (ACSH) issued an amended Directive 2004/37/EC on Carcinogens and Mutagens at the workplace.

We have been working with IMA Europe and its member companies since 2017 to develop a shared industry position on Respirable Crystalline Silica (RCS), and associated communications materials for use by IMA Europe members when talking about the issue. See the case study here.