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Hydraulic Fracking Could Cause Lung Damage To Oil Field Workers

August 25th, 2012

According to recent reports, federal workplace watchdog groups are now warning that the recent rise in hydraulic fracking is now exposing oil field workers to dangerous air toxins which can be inhaled. This risk is in addition to the other multitude of risks which accompany a job in the oil field. Reportedly, a “Hazard Alert” from government agencies OSHA and NIOSH has the industry scrambling for fixes. Sources say the Hazard Alert was for one threat in particular: silica, the chemical component in sand. Sources say that each well that’s “fracked” uses tons of sand that’s shot down the hole at high pressure, fracturing the shale rock formations thousands of feet underground. The sand particles act as tiny wedges, holding the rocks open, allowing natural gas and oil to escape.

Sources say that so much sand is now being used in Gonzales County, 75 miles east of San Antonio, that a freight train company has built a new rail yard. On the site are enormous silos for sand operated by oilfield service companies including Halliburton. Reportedly, trucks haul the sand to drill sites in Gonzales and neighboring counties. But as it’s off-loaded from those trucks, federal workplace investigators say the sand can create dangerous amounts of dust.

Reportedly, in air samples taken at a drill site in the Eagle Ford Shale late last summer, investigators found silica dust levels exceeding government safety standards in half of the eight samples taken. In one sample, silica levels were over 10 times the safe limit which meant that even if workers wore air-purifying half-masks, they still would be in danger. Sources say that similar and sometimes worse levels were found at sites in other fracking hotspots in Pennsylvania, Colorado and Arkansas. In fact, NIOSH says silica dust levels exceeded government safety standards at every fracking site they tested.

Medical sources say that breathing in the silica dust can cause an incurable lung disease and increases the risk of cancer. Further, according to NOISH, silica was just one of several fracking chemicals (silica is silicon dioxide) that NIOSH said can pose hazards at well sites. Particularly, hydrogen sulfide gas presents a danger to those working on the oil fields. However, industry sources say that many workers have begun wearing H2 monitors which starts to beep when levels of the gas become dangerously high. Workers say that the monitor should be worn somewhere low on the body so the toxins will not reach the head. However, NOISH believes that the problem with the silica dust cannot be solved so easily.

Instead, sources say that NIOSH and the oil and gas industry are working on modifications to the equipment that moves sand from rail cars to trucks and finally to tanks at the well site. Covering up access ports, using augers to move sand instead of conveyor belts, and something as simple as watering down roads where the fine sand has spilled might reduce the dust inhaled by workers. NIOSH said respirators should be provided as well to workers if the modifications don’t reduce dust levels to acceptable levels. The agency is also recommending that companies do medical monitoring of workers including lung exams and chest x-rays.

If you or someone you know has been injured in at a drilling site, contact the Amaro Law Firm for a free and private consultation about your case at 1-877-892-2797.

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