Exposure to silica during the production of titanium dioxide from beach sand
Draai, Maryda Emily Tersia
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Silica is a common silicon dioxide (SiO2) that can be crystalline or non-crystalline (amorphous). Amorphous silica is considered to be less hazardous than crystalline silica. Three dominant crystalline polymorphs exist, with silica quartz being the most common. Exposure to respirable crystalline silica (quartz) causes silicosis, a lung scarring disease. The aim of this study was to identify and quantify the silica exposure in respirable dust personal exposure samples, as well as in representative bulk samples which are large samples taken from the sources of airborne dust obtained from different mining and production plants involved in the production of titanium dioxide from beach sand. This is needed to determine the degree of risk of developing silicosis. Forty five workers employed in different mining and production plants participated in this study. Their eight-hour personal exposure to respirable particulate was determined. Personal respirable dust exposure samples and bulk samples were analyzed for silica by an accredited laboratory by means of X-ray diffraction based on NIOSH method 7500. Silica quartz was detected in personal respirable dust samples and bulk dust samples obtained from the mining and production plants, but amorphous silica was only detected in three personal exposure samples at the Slag plant and in the bulk sample obtained from the Roaster plant. All the silica quartz and amorphous silica concentrations in personal exposure samples were well below their respective exposure limits of 0.1 mg/m3 (quartz) and 3 mg/m3 (amorphous). No significant differences were found between the silica quartz concentrations in personal respirable exposure samples obtained from the mining ponds and the production plants, although a practical significance was found between some mining and production area personal exposure samples. The non-significant differences found between exposure concentrations and a practical significance suggest the necessity of involving a larger sample group in future. Other studies done in non-mining industries showed that some workers were over exposed to respirable silica dust. Compared to these findings the results of the present study showed the opposite, with respirable silica dust levels being below the South African action level and OEL. Further research, involving more samples, spread over a longer period of time, would probably be able to show a clear trend as to how quartz structures and exposure profiles change from the mining to the various production processes. Overexposure to silica quartz anywhere at the mine and production processes is considered unlikely, with the risk of developing silicosis being low.
- Health Sciences