Occupational exposure to crystalline silica dust in the United States, 1988-2003

Environ Health Perspect. 2005 Mar;113(3):255-60. doi: 10.1289/ehp.7384.


The purposes of this study were a) to summarize measurements of airborne (respirable) crystalline silica dust exposure levels among U.S. workers, b) to provide an update of the 1990 Stewart and Rice report on airborne silica exposure levels in high-risk industries and occupations with data for the time period 1988-2003, c) to estimate the number of workers potentially exposed to silica in industries that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) inspected for high exposure levels, and d) to conduct time trend analyses on airborne silica dust exposure levels for time-weighted average (TWA) measurements. Compliance inspection data that were taken from the OSHA Integrated Management Information System (IMIS) for 1988-2003 (n = 7,209) were used to measure the airborne crystalline silica dust exposure levels among U.S. workers. A second-order autoregressive model was applied to assess the change in the mean silica exposure measurements over time. The overall geometric mean of silica exposure levels for 8-hr personal TWA samples collected during programmed inspections was 0.077 mg/m3, well above the applicable American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists threshold limit value of 0.05 mg/m3. Surgical appliances supplies industry [Standard Industrial Classification (SIC) 3842] had the lowest geometric mean silica exposure level of 0.017 mg/m3, compared with the highest level, 0.166 mg/m3, for the metal valves and pipe fitting industry (SIC 3494), for an 8-hr TWA measurement. Although a downward trend in the airborne silica exposure levels was observed during 1988-2003, the results showed that 3.6% of the sampled workers were exposed above the OSHA-calculated permissible exposure limit.

Publication types

  • Historical Article

MeSH terms

  • Air Pollutants, Occupational / adverse effects*
  • Air Pollutants, Occupational / analysis*
  • Air Pollutants, Occupational / history
  • Dust
  • History, 20th Century
  • Humans
  • Industry
  • Occupational Exposure*
  • Occupations*
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Risk Assessment
  • Silicon Dioxide / adverse effects*
  • Silicon Dioxide / analysis*
  • United States
  • United States Occupational Safety and Health Administration


  • Air Pollutants, Occupational
  • Dust
  • Silicon Dioxide