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MSHA News Release No. USDL: 96-455
Mine Safety and Health Administration
Contact: Meg Ingold
Phone: (202) 219-8211

October 31, 1996

LABOR SECRETARY CALLS FOR AN END TO SILICOSIS

A foundry worker from Michigan and a miner from Kentucky and their families are just a few of today's victims of the age-old problem of silicosis.

Secretary of Labor Robert B. Reich announced today the start of a national public education campaign, If It's Silica, It's Not Just Dust, to prevent silicosis--a disabling, sometimes fatal, lung disease caused by overexposure to silica dust.

The Labor Department is launching the silicosis prevention effort jointly with the American Lung Association and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

"More than 1 million workers across the country are exposed to silica dust on the job," said Reich, "and 100,000 of them are at a high risk of developing silicosis. Even though this disease is 100 percent preventable, recent studies suggest that the battle against silicosis has not yet been won."

"This silicosis prevention effort is a partnership that will save lives and significant human and economic costs," said Secretary of Health and Human Services Donna E. Shalala.

Each year, more than 250 American workers die with silicosis. Those who remove paint and rust from buildings, bridges, tanks and other surfaces; clean foundry castings; mine through rock; crush stone or work with clay; etch or frost glass; and work in construction are among those at risk of overexposure to crystalline silica.

Inhalation of crystalline silica, the second most common mineral in the earth's crust, can lead to chronic, accelerated or acute silicosis and is associated with bronchitis and tuberculosis. Some studies also indicate an association with lung cancer. The earliest recorded cases of silicosis date back to the first century A.D.

"Sixty years ago, labor secretary Frances Perkins launched a nationwide effort to tackle the problem of silicosis," said Reich. "I am determined to finish the job she started."

Beginning tomorrow, workers and employers can get a package of free materials on how to prevent silicosis by calling the NIOSH toll-free telephone information service (1-800-35-NIOSH). The package contains a tip sheet of ideas for preventing silicosis, a guide for working safely with silica, and stickers for hard hats to remind workers that, if it's silica, it's not just dust. Spanish-language versions also will be available soon.

Department of Labor staff will distribute silica materials when they inspect mines, construction sites and other affected industries. NIOSH, the agency that researches and recommends solutions to workplace hazards, will staff the 800 number and provide technical information to callers.

"We are continuing to make significant progress in fighting this disease. But in 1996, there is no reason at all for any workers to suffer from silicosis," said Reich. "When we get the word out to all workers and employers on how to control silica dust, lives will be saved."

Joining Reich in today's announcement were silicosis victims and their families who came to Washington to tell their stories. They included:

Alfred Munzer, M.D., past president and volunteer spokesman for the American Lung Association, described some of the most serious effects of being overexposed to silica dust. "Silicosis is an insidious, debilitating lung disease that robs people of their breath and eventually limits their mobility and makes them dependent on supplemental oxygen," said Munzer. "Cigarette smoking only aggravates the effects of silica dust and worsens a patient's condition."

Margaret Seminario, head of health and safety for the AFL-CIO, lent organized labor's support to the effort: "This is finally the time to say, Stop!' to silicosis."

Two companies committed to preventing silicosis at their worksites offered support to silicosis prevention efforts. "Our company is committed to making the capital investment necessary to eliminate silicosis. We see this campaign as a perfect example of where government and industry, working together, can solve a major health issue facing the American worker," said Kevin Crawford, chair of the National Industrial Sand Association, and President and CEO of Unimin Corporation, the nation's leading producer of industrial sand.

"Our company is pleased to join in this effort to prevent silicosis, and we believe other companies in our industry can and will share in our commitment," said Donald M. James, President and COO of Vulcan Materials Co., the nation's largest producer of construction aggregates.

As a part of the ongoing campaign to end silicosis, there will be a national conference in March 1997 in Washington, D.C., focusing on the best practices to reduce dust and prevent silicosis.

Note to Broadcasters: There will be two satellite feeds of a video news release on preventing silicosis: on Thursday, Oct., 31, 2:30 - 3:00 PM E.T., Galaxy 6/Transponder 2 and again on Friday, Nov. 1, 1:00 - 1:30 PM E.T., Galaxy (C) 4/Transponder 9.