Silica and Benzene Named Among Emerging Dangers at AIHce

The two substances were discussed in a Monday session at the conference.

Benzene and silica were hot topics at an AIHce Monday session, "Emerging Challenges in Upstream Oil and Gas Operations." They were two of the dangers addressed in the session and ones the industry faces daily.

Benzene, primarily inhaled as vapors, is extremely dangerous in both short-term and long-term exposure levels. Two potential consequences for benzene exposure are leukemia and anemia. Many workers are exposed to the colorless, flammable liquid found in gasoline on a regular basis. American Cancer Society has named this solventas one of the 20 most commonly used chemicals in the United States.

"About 95 percent of the exposures relate to handling liquids," said Robert Waterhouse, lead industrial hygienist a the Canadian division of Encana and one of the panelists at the session. "There are some situations where the vapor itself, in the absence of liquid, can be present, but the vast majority of them are associated with liquid."

According to Waterhouse, there are many factors that increase exposure danger, including: percentage of exposure, volume of liquids, duration of exposure, ventilation, temperature of liquid, surface area, and proximity to source. In addition to the harms that come with benzene, silica carries dangerous consequences of its own, like silicosis and lung cancer. It is a naturally occurring component in soil and sand. It has become a prominent concern for the oil and gas industries with the rise of fracking. It is often used to grind or break down objects in the process. It is composed of quartz dust, which has extremely permissible low exposure levels. In fact, quartz has exposure levels half as low as those of lead.

"Because it is 100 percent respirable, your visual appreciation of the hazard is very, very poor," Waterhouse said.

What are some exposure prevention solutions? Respirators are the most basic and effective step. For those who will endure prolonged exposure, full face masks are ideal. "Remember your health for tomorrow and years to come depends on what you do today," Waterhouse said. For more information on the harms and prevention of silica and benzene exposure, visit the OSHA website.

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