Last updated: June 14, 2018

What Does Silicosis Mean?

Silicosis is the scarring of the lungs due to acute or chronic inhalation of crystalline silica, a component of sand. There are three kinds of silicosis depending on the exposure dosage and time period of exposure:

  • Chronic/classic silicosis
  • Accelerated silicosis
  • Acute silicosis

Symptoms of silicosis include breathing problems, fatigue, chest pain and coughing. Extreme conditions may result in respiratory failure and death.

Most commonly, silicosis is an occupational hazard. Construction and other activities, which use abrasive sand blasting and stone drilling, create a high risk of crystalline silica exposure. Sand blasting might be used to prepare a surface before applying a protective coating to prevent corrosion. Sand blasting that uses crystalline silica as the abrasive material can increase the risk of silicosis.

Silicosis may also be known as miner's phthisis, grinder's asthma, or potter's rot.


Corrosionpedia Explains Silicosis

The material that causes silicosis, crystalline silica, is a particular form of silicon dioxide (SO2), a ubiquitous compound. It crystallizes in a few different forms, the most common being quartz. SO2 is a major component of sand and stones. Dust containing crystalline silica form when stones are cut and when sand is used as an abrasive in sand blasting. The dust that occurs in regular occupational settings create the risk of silicosis.

Classic or chronic silicosis results from the low exposure of crystalline silica across 15-20 years, with symptoms associated with breathing slowly manifesting. High exposures across 5-10 years can cause accelerated silicosis, with symptoms starting faster than chronic silicosis, but slower than acute silicosis. The latter condition could occur within months of extremely high exposure amounts.

In addition to the respiratory complications and possible death caused by silicosis, research has associated the condition with other diseases such as lung cancer, bronchitis, tuberculosis and scleroderma.

Good occupational safety practices can prevent silicosis:

  • When possible, replace silica-based blasting materials with non-crystalline silica substitutes
  • Ensure proper ventilation and respirator usage to lower inhalation of crystalline silica
  • Replace cutting and grinding methodologies with wet alternatives
  • Wash hands and leave the work area before eating, drinking, and smoking


Miner's Phthisis

Grinder's Asthma

Potter's Rot

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