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3. Health Effects of Exposure

Health Effects of Exposure Presentation

Health Effects Key Points

When the very fine particles of RCS are breathed in they penetrate deep into the alveoli region of the lung where they are trapped. Here they can cause a number of different serious diseases.


                        The Aveoli Region of the Lung

The Aveoli Region of the Lung

Source – Creative Commons / Sumaiya


The first of these diseases is silicosis. The trapped particles are attached by the body’s immune system causing inflammation and swelling of the lung tissue. This continued inflammation leads to areas of scarring and hardness in the tissues which is called fibrosis. Silicosis is therefore called a fibrotic lung disease.  The disease can continue to get worse even after the person is no longer breathing RCS dust.  Silicosis is progressive disease that will continue to get worse with time. There is no known cure for this disease. Depending upon the level and duration of exposure to RCS the symptoms of silicosis may take many years to develop. Typical symptoms may initially be cough, shortness of breath and weakness and tiredness. As the disease progresses symptoms may become so severe that simple physical activity such as walking becomes difficult. Respiratory failure will eventually lead to the death of the person suffering the disease.

Lung Cancer

The next disease associated with exposure to RCS to consider is lung cancer.  Crystalline silica is classified as a human carcinogen and workers suffering from silicosis are more likely to suffer from lung cancer.  Smoking cigarettes when exposed to RCS dust has been shown to have a synergist effect on the likelihood suffering from lung cancer. This means that risk of contracting the disease is much more likely than from simply being exposed to RCS dust or tobacco smoke by themselves.


Another disease associated with RCS exposure is chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).  This disease restricts airflow in the lungs due to narrowing of the small airways and breakdown of lung tissue. The main symptoms of the disease include severe breathlessness and prolonged coughing. The disease is progressive leading to chronic disability and eventually death due to respiratory failure.


Some other lung diseases, such as tuberculosis (TB), although not caused by RCS exposure are more likely to be contracted when RCS exposure occurs.  TB patients who also have silicosis are likely to die more quickly than those who do not have silicosis.

Now complete the Multi-choice Questions below to test your understanding of the health effects of exposure to RCS.

Select the correct answer for each of the following questions.


Which of the following diseases can be caused by exposure to RCS?


Fibrosis of the lung



Tuberculosis (TB)



Silicosis is:


Treatable using antibiotics.

A disease that will improve once the sufferer is no longer exposed to RCS.

A disease that will often continue to get worse after exposure to RCS is ceased.

A non-fatal disease.



Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD): 


Is caused by blockage of the lung by small particles.

Has symptoms of breathlessness and prolonged coughing.

Is caused by hardening of the lung tissues.

Can be cured with drug treatment.