Silica, also called silicon dioxide, combines Silicon and Oxygen, SiO2. It is a common mineral found in the crust of the earth, and it can be seen in stone, soil, sand, concrete, brick, mortar, and other construction materials. Non-crystalline Silica can be found in glass, silicon carbide, and silicone and these are much less hazardous to the lungs. In the case of Crystalline Silica, it comes in different forms, and Quartz is the most common form of crystalline Silica. Workers’ exposure to respirable crystalline Silica is associated with elevated lung cancer rates. Silica has vital benefits and impacts the whole environment, including human beings, animals, plants, water and air.
Benefits of Silica on the human body
As per some of the research, Silica has many benefits for the human body. It is a trace mineral integral to connective tissue’s structure and functional integrity and a common health supplement that aids in the development of bone, skin, and nails.
- It supports bone formation and maintenance.
- Helps to make collagen
- Helps to protect heart health
Benefits of Silica in Industries
Silica has widespread industrial benefits, including its use as a food additive, as a means to clarify beverages, dough modifier, as an excipient in drugs and vitamins etc. It has a variety of application in many industrial purposes, from construction to chemicals to glass and for common products like plastic, paint, rubber, personal care products, electronics etc. Silica gel is not a gel; it can absorb water and other liquids instead of dissolving. That’s why it is used in food packets, shoe boxes, and dirty laundry in toolboxes to absorb moisture. Some of the industries are;
All standard and speciality glasses comprise silica sand as the primary component. SiO2 component helps glass formulation, and its chemical purity is the primary determinant of colour, clarity and strength.
- Metal casting
Silica sand is the most commonly used type of foundry sand. This sand was used in core making, so switching to using the same aggregate in the complete casting process made managing foundry supplies easier.
- Personal care products or Cosmetics
Silica is common in cosmetic and skincare products because it can change the feel and texture of the product. Silica act as an absorbing agent, anti-caking agent, bulking agent, suspending agent etc.
Benefits of Silica for the environment and Plants
In relation to Silica, plants can categorizes into three types: accumulators, intermediaries and non-accumulators. These categorization mainly depends on the extent to which Silica accumulates in the plant’s tissue.
Accumulators have the highest accumulation rate, and the most significant benefits have been tied to these plants. Non-accumulator plants also positively respond to the use of silicas in fertilization. Silica consider to be a quasi-essential nutrient for most plants. Some of the benefits are;
- Increases plant tolerance to drought, frost and lodging
- Increased resistance to abiotic stress
- Increased resistance to biotic stress
SILICA IN AIR, WATER AND HEALTH EFFECTS
Environmental effects of Silica in air
Exposure to silica dust will cause various health problems among people. This will be a more serious issue for workers who work in environments that contain silica dust since inhalation of such dust will irritate the lungs and mucus membranes.
Environmental effects of Silica in water
Keeping aside the fact that Silica’s presence in water is generally harmless since it is naturally present in larger amounts. But an abnormal level of Silica in water will limit the algal growth in the water bodies. Moreover, zeolite, a phosphate replacement in detergents affects the water organisms. Thus, concentrated levels of Silica in water will alleviate the plant water status and water balance in both monocot and dicot plants, mainly under drought and salt stresses.
Health risks of exposure
Breathing in silica dust will often result in silicosis because when these dust particles gets into the lung tissue, it causes inflammation and scarring, eventually reducing the lung’s ability to breathe in the required amount of oxygen into the human body. This condition is commonly referred to as ‘silicosis’. Thus, silicosis results in permanent lung damage that might be progressive, debilitating and even fatal. Cough, fatigue, shortness of breath, and chest pain are common symptoms. Ten or more years of continuous exposure to crystalline Silica will result in chronic silicosis.
Till now, there is no cure for silicosis, and some patients might require lung transplantation. Often, workers get more exposed to Silica, causing an increased risk of tuberculosis.
Following are the other serious health effects resulting from increased exposure to crystalline Silica in workers;
- Lung cancer happens when cells in the body grow out of control and become tumours. Cancerous cells from the body can spread to other parts of the body resulting in metastasis.
- Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD): This includes chronic bronchitis and emphysema with symptoms like shortness of breath, coughing, sputum production etc.
- Kidney disease: Various studies among workers have stated that increasing levels of silica exposure for a larger period will increase the risk of chronic kidney diseases among workers.
- Autoimmune disease: Studies among workers also show that increased silica exposure increases the risk of autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis, systemic lupus erythematosus and systemic sclerosis.
Silica has a wide application in medicine, textile, cosmetics, construction, and other industries too. The researches are undergoing for the further applications of Silica on the human body. Silica has both benefits and negative impacts on the environment, and it can lead to growth and put nature at risk.