Steptoe & Johnson PLLC: NIOSH and Fracking

Steptoe & Johnson PLLC: NIOSH and Fracking

By Janis P. White, M.D.

Based on recent presentations by NIOSH (National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health) one can surmise that the agency is taking a very active interest in hydraulic fracturing (fracking). Silica exposure seems to be the initial target of the agency.

NIOSH has determined by personal breathing zone testing that:

  • Approximately 50% of fracking workers were exposed to levels of respirable silica higher than the OSHA PEL (Occcupational Safety and Health Administration's Permissiable Exposure Limits).
  • Approximately 80% were exposed to levels of respirable silica higher than the NIOSH REL (NIOSH's Recommended Exposure Limits).
  • Nearly one-third were exposed to levels ten times the NIOSH REL.

The primary risks for silica exposure are associated with movement of sand both within and surrounding sand transporting and utilizing vehicles.

In addition to silica exposure, NIOSH has also demonstrated an ongoing interest in fumes, gases and heavy metals. 

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