In the United States, an estimated 2.3 million workers are exposed to crystalline silica—a substance that has caused the most widespread occupational respiratory disease for over 100 years now. For a long time, exposure to the mineral declined after disasters like Hawk’s Nest Tunnel went public. Scientists and policymakers stood together to prevent the exploitation of American workers in hazardous settings filled with silica dust. However, silicosis, the fatal lung disease caused by inhaling silica, has rebounded in wealthier countries due to the rising demand for artificial stone in home construction. Amid a global pandemic – against a respiratory virus no-less – there is very little concern for American workers who might have to battle through both silicosis and COVID-19.
What is Silicosis?
Silicosis is a severe chronic lung disease caused by silica inhalation. The occupational disease has traditionally been associated with mining, quarry work, and countertop cutting. When workers drill, crush, chip, or break materials that contain silica, large amounts of the breathable mineral can form a cloud of lethal dust. When inhaled, the silica particles become embedded in the worker’s lungs, eventually affecting a person’s ability to breathe normally. Symptoms generally associated with the disease include shortness of breath, chest pain, a persistent cough, and physical weakness that increases with time. According to The American Lung Association, various types of silicosis exist:
- Acute silicosis causes coughing, weight loss, and fatigue within a few weeks or years of exposure to inhaled silica.
- Chronic silicosis appears roughly 10 to 30 years after exposure and can cause extensive lung scarring, particularly in the upper lungs.
- Accelerated silicosis occurs within 10 years of high-level exposure.
Workers with silicosis are in danger of developing other health issues, including chronic bronchitis and lung cancer. Most importantly, however, those diagnosed with silicosis are at an increased risk of developing complications if they contract COVID-19.
Respiratory Illnesses and COVID-19
As COVID-19 affects the respiratory tract, life-threatening complications are a genuine concern for people dealing with silicosis. Even worse, it can also cause severe illness in former industry workers who are not even aware that they have a pre-existing health condition like silicosis yet. As strange as it sounds, workers are commonly unaware of their illness for quite some time. This is because silicosis can remain dormant for a long time, depending on the amount of silica a person was exposed to and the period they were exposed to it. This latency is why it is crucial for industrial workers, like countertop cutters, who know they have been exposed to toxic substances to consistently get checked by a physician.
Simply put, developing a severe complication with COVID-19 does not only mean the need for intensive care and artificial respiratory support. It also means that the already weakened immune system cannot fight off the infection as well as it does at full capacity – essentially permitting the virus to attack the lungs. Though no current studies specific to silicosis exist to determine the survival rate of those diagnosed with COVID-19, experts agree that those with pre-existing health conditions, especially respiratory illnesses, are at an increased risk of developing severe sickness from COVID-19.
How We Help Silicosis Victims
Seek justice with the help of our experienced attorneys. Our Dallas, Texas, law firm represents workers exposed to dangerous silica dust on the job, aggressively fighting to hold these companies responsible for failing to keep workers safe. If you or a loved one has suffered chronic lung diseases like silicosis, we can help.