Abrasive blasting is more commonly known as sandblasting since silica sand has been a commonly used material as the abrasive, although not the only one always used.
Abrasive blasting with sands containing crystalline silica can cause silicosis, a serious or fatal respiratory disease.
Abrasive blasting entails accelerating a grit of sand sized particles with compressed air to provide a stream of high velocity particles used to clean metal objects such as steel structures or provide a texture to poured concrete. This process typically produces a large amount of dust from the abrasive, anything on the substrate being abraded, and/or the substrate itself.
If the process is not completely isolated from the operator, abrasive blasting dusts are a very great health risk. Respirable dust from silica sand and other abrasive materials pose a risk to the lungs. Where abrasive blasting is used to remove lead-based paint on the steel infrastructure of bridges, it can generate particles of lead that pose a risk to the nervous system. In addition to potential health hazards, abrasive blasting can pose safety risks as well. Cleaning steel while working from scaffolding introduces a fall risk and from within industrial tanks a confined space risk. The abrasive stream itself can cause physical harm to the operator or anyone close by.
Abrasive blasting may have several hazards associated with it at any given time.
Millions of U.S. workers are exposed to respirable crystalline silica in a variety of industries and occupations, including construction, sandblasting, and mining. Silicosis, an irreversible but preventable disease, is the illness most closely associated with occupational exposure to the material, which also is known as silica dust. Occupational exposures to respirable crystalline silica are associated with the development of silicosis, lung cancer, pulmonary tuberculosis, and airways diseases. These exposures may also be related to the development of autoimmune disorders, chronic renal disease, and other adverse health effects.
Adapted from: CDC/NIOSH