Silica Exposure and Scleroderma
Scleroderma is an autoimmune disorder that causes the immune system into attacking the body’s own organs and often is characterized by a hardening of the skin. In fact, the word scleroderma comes from the Greek "sklerosis", meaning hardness and “derma”, meaning skin. In more advanced cases, the disease not only causes dermatological issues, but also attacks vital organs including the lungs and heart.
One possible cause of scleroderma is accidental inhalation of Crystalline Silica, which is a substance found in many common minerals and is a basic component of soil. There have been numerous studies linking occupational silica exposure to instances of autoimmune diseases such as scleroderma. Even today, silica remains a serious threat to over 2 million U.S. workers. Railroad workers have been particularly vulnerable because of work such as ballast dumping, ballast regulating, sand use in braking and filling locomotive sanders with silica sand.
In OSHA's National News Release, Dr. David Michaels, the former assistant secretary of labor for occupational safety and health, is quoted as saying, "exposure to silica can be deadly, and limiting that exposure is essential. Every year, exposed workers not only lose their ability to work, but also to breathe.” In order to curb occupational exposure, OSHA recently imposed a new regulation which went into effect in 2016. It requires employers to limit crystalline silica exposure to 50 micrograms per cubic meter of air by implementing safety measures to control the dust with vacuum systems or water and provide at risk employees with respirators. OSHA estimates that the new regulation will save over 600 lives every year. This new regulation gives renewed hope that fewer American workers will suffer from silica related diseases such as scleroderma.
Unfortunately, there is no cure for scleroderma, but some of the symptoms can be treated. If you are a railroad worker who has been diagnosed with scleroderma, or any disease related to silica exposure, contact us to speak with an experienced attorney about your legal rights under the Federal Employers' Liability Act (FELA).
Hessel PA, Sluis-Cremer GK, Hnizdo E, Faure MH, Thomas RG,Wiles FJ . Progression of silicosis in relation to silica dust exposure. Ann Occup Hyg 32(Suppl 1):689–696.