Exposure to respirable crystalline silica in eastern North Carolina farm workers

AIHA J (Fairfax, Va). 2002 Nov-Dec;63(6):750-5. doi: 10.1080/15428110208984765.


Occupational exposure to crystalline silica has been linked to silicosis, some forms of cancer, and certain autoimmune diseases. Little information exists on exposure levels of respirable silica in the agricultural industry. This study assessed respirable silica exposure of farm workers in eastern North Carolina. Sandy soils in this region have been shown to contain high levels of respirable silica. Personal breathing zone samples (n = 37) were collected from 27 workers at seven farms during various agricultural activities. The highest respirable silica concentrations were measured during sweet potato transplanting (3.91 +/- 2.07 mg/m3). Respirable silica exposure was observed to be associated with agricultural activity, soil moisture, relative humidity, and wind speed. Most of the variation in exposure (79%) was explained by agricultural activity and soil moisture. The observed percentage of silica levels (mean 34.7%) were almost twice as high as was reported in studies of California agriculture. This may be due to the loamy sand and sandy loam soil types in the regions in this study. In agriculture, respirable silica exposure is highly variable, but the potential for exposures above the threshold limit value of 0.05 mg/m3 exists during particular agricultural activities.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Agricultural Workers' Diseases / etiology*
  • Agriculture
  • Crystallization
  • Humans
  • Inhalation Exposure / adverse effects
  • Inhalation Exposure / analysis*
  • Maximum Allowable Concentration
  • North Carolina
  • Occupational Exposure / adverse effects
  • Occupational Exposure / analysis*
  • Quartz / adverse effects
  • Quartz / analysis*
  • Sensitivity and Specificity
  • Soil


  • Soil
  • Quartz