Exposures of geotechnical laboratory workers to respirable crystalline silica.Appl Occup Environ Hyg. 1999 Jan; 14(1):39-44.AO
Geotechnical laboratory testing involves the determination of the physical properties of soil, rock, and other building materials for engineering purposes. Individuals working in these laboratories are exposed to airborne soil, rock, and other dusts during the preparation and testing of these materials. Crystalline silica as quartz is a common constituent of these materials and represents a potential hazard to geotechnical laboratory workers when airborne as a respirable dust. The authors conducted an examination of the potential for geotechnical laboratory workers to be exposed to respirable dust and respirable quartz during the performance of three routine laboratory tasks. A task-based exposure assessment strategy was used. Although respirable dust was generated during the performance of each of these tasks, its impact on exposures was generally overridden by the presence of respirable quartz in the dust. Quartz content in the respirable dust ranged from below the detection limit to greater than 50 percent. Mean exposure to respirable quartz, based on the duration of the task and assuming no other exposures for the rest of the 8-hour day, exceeded the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) "action level" (the exposure level at which certain actions must be taken) of 0.025 mg/m3. If exposure was assumed to continue for the rest of the 8-hour day at the measured concentration, mean exposure to respirable quartz exceeded the American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists (ACGIH) Threshold Limit Value (TLV) time-weighted average (TWA), the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) PEL, and the NIOSH REL. Seven percent of 57 individual task exposure measurements exceeded the TLV-TWA and the PEL, 18 percent exceeded the REL, and another 12 percent exceeded excursion limits as defined by ACGIH. The results of this study support the conclusion that geotechnical laboratory workers are potentially exposed to respirable crystalline silica as quartz at levels that may be harmful. Because the quartz content of the materials being tested in these laboratories is highly variable and is almost never determined prior to testing, all materials being tested in the geotechnical laboratory should be assumed to contain quartz. Appropriate controls should be used to protect workers from inhaling dusts generated from these materials.