Where does crystalline silica come from?
Some examples of everyday crystalline silica-containing products include abrasive blasting materials, cement, bricks, mortars, plasters, patching materials for asphalt, caulking compounds, roofing materials, concrete construction products, such as concrete blocks and pavers, fill, and decorative stones. Silica formation happens during cutting, sawing, grinding, drilling, and crushing stones, rocks, concrete, bricks, blocks, and mortar. The respirable crystalline silica is much smaller than ordinary sand on beaches and playgrounds. For the complete combustion of rice husks after acid leaching, an air supplement of 50 mL/min or more was necessary to provide sufficient air. Silica materials with a purity of 99 wt% or more were prepared from rice husks using a variety of processes.
Worker exposure to crystalline silica dust occurs during harsh blasting with sand, sawing brick or concrete, drilling into concrete walls, and grinding mortar. Similarly manufacturing bricks, stone countertops, ceramic commodities, and cutting or crushing rock also release silica. Known sources of crystalline silica exposure include foundry sand and hydraulic fracturing (fracking).
Crystalline silica and its Impacts on life
By breathing in crystalline silica dust, you can develop silicosis. Black lung disease and coal workers’ pneumoconiosis, due to dust inhalation, are other types of pneumoconiosis.
Silicosis starts with simple inflammation and then leads to pulmonary fibrosis. Silica exposure can affect the nose, throat, and lungs , which may cause coughing spells or shortness of breath.
The effects of crystalline silica dust on the respiratory system may leads to allergic sensitization.
Other health effects can cause lung cancer because of its highly radioactive properties. Exposure to silica has link with developing cancers like stomach cancer and other solid tumours.
Crystalline silica products pose health risks.
Cristobalite products can cause extreme toxicity as they can easily penetrate bodily tissues and organs due to their acute toxicity.
High exposure to crystalline silica dust results in acute health effects. Shortness of breath, irritation in the eyes and nose, throat infection and tiredness are some among them.
In extremely high concentrations, silica can cause asphyxiation by preventing oxygen from reaching vital organs. This is why silica dust threatens both environmental and human health.
Effects of Silica dust on Animal life
Silica dust may affect respiratory tract problems in animals exposed to it. Silica particles are more likely to be ingested by cats, horses, cattle, and pigs since they often chew on objects.
Effects of Silica dust on plants and wildlife
Abrasion of leaves caused by crystallized silica dust reduces photosynthesis, decreases seed production, inhibits seedling growth, and increases resistance to diseases and pests. Soil impurification by silica can make it challenging for plants to grow, affecting the food chain since carnivores hunt prey that eats plants.
Plants may have difficulty absorbing nutrients if microbial activity in the soil is reduced. It affects plant growth by lowering photosynthesis, promoting disease, and inhibiting growth.
The long-term inhalation, ingestion, or absorption of crystallized silica dust significantly affects amphibians, resulting in their death.
Effects of crystalline silica on the environment
Silica dust settles on plants, soil, rocks, and other surfaces nearby, so its effects are more excellent near the ground. Silica particles can also be spread by wind to a far distance from the initial source of contamination.
Crystalline silica dust has more significant toxicity to those species that live adjacent to the soil. Those species mainly include earthworms and small mammals. Due to its tendency to settle in coastal areas with highly contaminated soils, silica dust can also affect aquatic organisms.
Soil impurification by silica can make it challenging for plants to grow, affecting the food chain since carnivores hunt prey that eats plants. Crystalline silica dust damages insects, worms, and other tiny organisms too.
What can be done to reduce the release of crystalline silica dust into the atmosphere?
We can reduce the environmental impact of crystalline silica dust by minimizing soil erosion, establishing wind barriers to lower emissions, planting vegetation buffers to absorb dust particles before they enter the atmosphere, applying binders to soils before construction, disposing of crystalline silica dust correctly, and eliminate plastic waste used during mining.
There is already a global supply squeeze on silica sand. Since the populations within the developing world continue to rapidly urbanize, the demand grow significantly every year. As supply sources dwindle, miners increasingly source silica sand from vulnerable ecosystems and waterways.
There are well-documented environmental impacts of silica sand mining in marine and riverine systems. It leads to erosion, salination of aquifers, loss of protection against storm surges, and impacts on biodiversity. These threaten livelihoods through adverse effects on water supply, food production, fisheries, and tourism.
With the rapid urbanization of the global population, it requires enormous volumes of sand per year to keep up with current demand. Concrete and glass for construction projects are not the only uses for silica sand, it also has a crucial role in the global decarbonization effort. For the high-tech glass of solar panels and bright screen technology needs high-purity silica sand with low iron content. During the next few decades, the demand for ultra-clear glass expects to grow exponentially as Asia-Pacific region mainly adopts solar panels.
In some circumstances and in some forms, silica can be detrimental to the environment, but it can also be beneficial. Despite of all harmful effects of crystalline silica by implementing advanced techniques silica has many applications paving roads, glass making, foundries etc. There are potentially hidden ecological costs associated with improper harvesting of silica.
In conclusion, silica is naturally found in our environment, and what makes it worse are the unforeseen environmental impacts of harvesting them.