Federal Officials Seek To Protect Workers From Silica Dust Exposure

The U.S. Department of Labor has issued a rule that cuts in half the amount of silica dust that workers can be exposed to. 

Frac sand companies said they support working to reduce workers’ exposure to the toxic mineral, but the rule will cost industry billions of dollars.

Labor Department officials have issued their final rule on fine silica dust. When breathed, microscopic particles of silica sand can cause cancer and incurable respiratory disease. The new rule requires companies to reduce the permissible exposure limits, or PEL, for workers by half.

Fairmont Santrol operations manager Rich Budinger said the lower limit is unnecessary.

“We don’t feel that the PEL needs to be reduced to protect workers anymore,” Budinger said. “The existing PEL is totally and completely adequate to do just that.”

Marty Lehman, president of the Wisconsin Industrial Sand Association, said they support most of the change.

“The only thing we’re not in total support of is the reduction of the permissible exposure level and the reason for that is a number of different studies show that the current (PEL) was protective of health,” he said.

Lehman said frac sand mines already use safety measures to limit silica exposure, but the rule could impact oil and gas companies who use the sand for drilling.

Department officials said the new silica workplace rule will save more than 600 lives per year. The National Industrial Sand Association said the new regulation will cost companies more than $5 billion.