Every year, more than 250 workers in the United States die with silicosis, an incurable, progressive lung disease caused by overexposure to dust containing silica. Hundreds more become disabled by this disease. More than 1 million U.S. workers are exposed to crystalline silica, which can cause scar tissue to form in the lungs and reduce the lungs ability to extract oxygen from the air. Every one of these cases is an unnecessary tragedy. There is no cure for the disease, but it is 100 percent preventable.
Construction workers who sand drywall joint compound are at great risk for this disease. They are often exposed to high concentrations of dusts and, in some cases, respirable silica. Drywall joint compounds are made from many ingredients (i.e., talc, calcite, mica, gypsum, silica). Some of these have been associated with varying degrees of eye, nose, throat, and respiratory tract irritation. Over time, breathing the dust from drywall joint compounds may cause persistent throat and airway irritation, coughing, phlegm production, and breathing difficulties similar to asthma. Smokers or workers with sinus or respiratory conditions may risk even worse health problems. When silica is present, workers may also face an increased risk of silicosis and lung cancer.
Contact NIOSH at 1-800-356-4674 for more information.