Crystalline Silica Primer

Special Publication

[Illustrations are not available in the PDF version of the Crystalline Silica Primer. Contact Robert Virta at the U.S. Geological Survey for a copy of the complete report with illustrations.]



Crystalline silica is the scientific name for a group of minerals composed of silicon and oxygen. The term crystalline refers to the fact that the oxygen and silicon atoms are arranged in a threedimensional repeating pattern. This group of minerals has shaped human history since the beginning of civilization. From the sand used for making glass to the piezoelectric quartz crystals used in advanced communication systems, crystalline silica has been a part of our technological development. Crystalline silica's pervasiveness in our technology is matched only by its abundance in nature. It's found in samples from every geologic era and from every location around the globe. Scientists have known for decades that prolonged and excessive exposure to crystalline silica dust in mining environments can cause silicosis, a noncancerous lung disease. During the 1980's, studies were conducted that suggested that crystalline silica also was a carcinogen. As a result of these findings, crystalline silica has been regulated under the Occupational Safety and Health Administration's (OSHA) Hazard Communication Standard (HCS). Under HCS, OSHAregulated businesses that use materials containing 0.1% or more crystalline silica must follow Federal guidelines concerning hazard communication and worker training. Although the HCS does not require that samples be analyzed for crystalline silica, mineral suppliers or OSHAregulated businesses may choose to do so if they wish to show that they are exempt from the requirements of HCS. Because crystalline silica is an extremely common mineral and the HCS will affect many mineral commodities, it is important then, that there be as clear an understanding as possible of what is and what is not crystalline silica, and where it is found and used, and how it is qualitatively and quantitatively identified. This primer is an attempt to accomplish this in as nontechnical a manner as possible. This primer will examine crystalline silica. Part I will describe, in nonscientific terms, what crystalline silica is and how we come in contact with it. Part II will discuss the regulatory decisions that have created new interest in this ancient and widespread substance and will present a nontechnical overview of the techniques used to measure crystalline silica. Because this primer is meant to be a starting point for anyone interested in learning more about crystalline silica, a list of selected readings and other resources is included. The detailed glossary, which defines many terms that are beyond the scope of this publication, is designed to help the reader move from this presentation to a more technical one, the inevitable next step.

Additional publication details

Publication type:
Publication Subtype:
Federal Government Series
Crystalline Silica Primer
Series title:
Special Publication
Year Published:
U.S. Bureau of Mines
25 p.