of Silicosis and Silica Dust
has been a recognized disease process for over 400 years. Agricola
in his Treatise on Mining, written in 1556 described a pulmonary
disease afflicting stonecutters and miners and later by Ramazzini
in 1713. Technological
advances in the last century, have dramatically increased the dust
exposure to the worker due to the high pressure power and air equipment
used to in mining, sandblasting and other industrial settings.
as a modern occupational illness, illustrates a legacy of irresponsibility
in the United States. The
danger of silica has been known since antiquity. In
the 1930’s silicosis and its cause “jumped from obscure, scarcely
recognized disease hidden for centuries in the chests of workers
in various dusty industries to front-page headlines in the daily
press.” Forbes, J.,
Davenport, S., “Review of Literature on Dusts,” U.S. Department
of interior, Bureau of Mines, Bulletin 478, (1950).
Thousands of workers in dusty trades, including sandblasters,
laid off during the Depression, brought lawsuits against employers
seeking damages for exposure to silica.
Farrall, A., “Silicosis in Certain of its Legal Aspects,”1
Industrial Medicine p. 35 (1932).
Washington Post reported on congressional efforts to investigate
the rising claims from silicosis and “work out a method for ending
silicosis.” May 3,
1936. After the Gauley
Bridge disaster where 476 workers died from silicosis while blasting
a tunnel in 1931, the Literary Digest reported that “silicosis
is no new disease. Formerly
called ‘miners asthma,’ ‘potters rot,’ or ‘phthisis.’
It is caused by minute particles of quartz dust in the lungs...all
agree that the disease can be prevented with gas masks.”
“Village of the Living Dead”
121 Literary Digest 6 (1936).
Even before the publicity, the danger of the sand was well
documented. In 1917
the United States Public Health Service called attention to the
prevalence of silicosis in foundry workers.
Watkins, J., U.S. Bureau of Mines, Bulletin No. 1, Air
Hygiene Foundation of America, (1917).
By 1936, silicosis had been identified as a disease with
a higher mortality rate in sand and shot blasters than other foundry
E.R. 7, Tubercle 385 (1936).
industrial journals and periodicals were filled with articles discussing
hazards of silica especially as it related to sandblasting.
See e.g., Sayers & Lanza, “Pneumoconiosis”, American
Public Health Association Yearbook 1932; (expressing increased
incidence with sandblasters); Winslow, C.E. et al, “The Dust Hazard
in the Abrasive Industry”, 34 U.S. Public Health Reports,
1171-1187 (1918); (silica hazards in the abrasive materials industry
scarcely equaled in any other industry); Bloomfield, J.J. et al,
“Sand and Metallic Abrasive Blasting as an Industrial Health Hazard,”
15 Journal of Industrial Hygiene, 184 (1933); (air pressured
abrasive blasting caused extremely lethal exposure to airborne silica).
in 1937, the United States Department of Labor, through its initiative
in hosting the National Silicosis Conference, identified a number
of occupants which exposed workers to dangerous was sandblasting.
“National Silicosis Conference, Report on Medical Control.”
U.S. Department of Labor, Bulletin 21, Part 2B (1938).
At the conference, a powerful observation was made about
the necessary protections needed for sandblasters:
of workmen by means of respirators is also indicated whenever the
room air cannot be kept moderately free from dust, and, of course
doubly indicated in operations that are unusually dusty.
In all kinds of sandblasting, workmen should be individually
protected, without fail. When
possible, the form of respirator which provides for the workman
and ample supply of pure, fresh air under direct pressure is certainly
the best, provided every precaution is taken to see that the air
is free and oily vapor and dust.
those companies selling products to sandblasting operations, they
need to look no further than the front page of the newspaper or
government conferences to learn of the danger of sand.
Yet these companies chose to sell their products to businesses,
representing that such products could be used for sandblasting--contrary
to widely publicized reports about necessary safety measures.
Likewise, sand companies sold sand to business without ever
revealing the dangers of silica-abrasives.
While these companies successfully profited in the 40’s,
50’s and 60’s, the price would be devastating for thousands of American