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Serious dangers of rock cutting



The original message I am responding to was posted in Rocks and 
Fossils, but I am sending my response to other paleo-related 
lists as well, because I feel this is an important safety issue.
I affects anyone who even occassionally cuts rocks or fossils, or 
does fossil preparation work.  It will be very worthwhile if it 
prevents even one person from suffering lung problems or dying 
prematurely.  With that deliberately ominous introduction, let 
me quote the post that prompted my response:

Pete Richards wrote:

> Last night I spent an hour cutting sandstone sidewalk 
>blocks with a composition blade made of fibreglass and 
>carborundum grit.  This is a dry saw and it was a still 
>night and clouds of dust were all around.  Some of it hung 
>in the air for minutes. I am not really concerned about a 
>one-shot exposure, but it did make me wonder if this is the 
>size of silica which DOES represent a health hazard. Of course, 
>I do not know for sure that the fine dust was silica, as opposed 
>to calcium carbonate (the cement in the sandstone) or material 
>from the saw blade. This episode may have analogs in the use 
>of dry-cutting diamond blades >or drill bits while collecting in 
>the field.

It's funny, or really not so funny, that you should write now.  
I'm suffering a chronic lung irritation, and seeing doctors now, 
because of the results of a similar incident.  In short, yes, one 
or a few exposures to significant amounts of fresh-cut rock can 
cause serious problems.  Silicosis is only one of many
lung problems that can be caused by rock dust, many of which 
(like fibrosis) can occur no matter what the composition of the 
rock. Wearing a good respirator or hood with dust collector if 
working indoors) is a must. If you don't have the proper safety 
equipment, don't cut the rock!  

Unfortunately, I found out the hard way, I hope everyone learns 
from my mistakes.  About a year ago our fossil club went to Ontario 
to collect trilobites, and we took along a diamond rock saw.  I only 
sawed out a few trilobites for fellow members (without wearing a mask;
I forgot to bring one) and I tried to not inhale the dust.  However, 
large clouds of it were kicked up each time, and it was impossible to avoid 
ihnaling quite a bit of it.  My the next morning I had significant 
lung irritation, and have had it ever since--some days worse than others.  
I have frequent coughing and uncomfortable sensation in my upper chest. 
After this went on a few weeks, I went to a doctor, not knowing if I had 
contracted a bacteria fungus in the quarry, or just had accumulated too much 
dust in my lungs.  An x-ray was clear, but that is not unusual in such cases 
(it sometimes takes years for fibosis, TB, cancer, and other diseases to 
develop, all of which the sharp dust particles can lead to).  Apparently 
the rock dust itself is the main cause the irriration, and leaves me a
at increased risk of fibrosis other serious problems as well, as explained 
below.   

Many people assume years of exposure to rock dust is needed to cause serious 
problems, and this is generally true when dealing with wind-blow, low 
concentration dust, which usually has already been weathered to some degree.  
But not so with fresh cut rock.  After I started having my problems, I began 
talking to doctors and doing lots of reading.  I also talked to an uncle who 
used to work in a quarry, and is now dying of pulmonary fibrosis at the age of 
55.  I'm now going to his doctor.   

It turns out that not only do rock particles of any composition tend to stay 
and accumulate in the lungs, but _fresh cut_ rock is the worse, and extremely 
pernicious. Even one or a few incidents of significant inhalation of such dust 
can cause lung irritation and a process of increasingly serious lung damage.  
The microscopic particles are like millions razor-edged shards that damage 
lung tissue directly, as well as create countless sites of infection for TB, 
microplasms, fibrosis, lung cancer, and other diseases. Experiments with rats 
and other animals have shown that inhallation of fresh cut rock dust is far  
more damaging than worn rock dust, of any composition, and leads to far 
greater incidents of several lung diseases, including fibrosis and cancer. 
(But even accumulations of worn rock dust in the lungs greatly increased 
chances of lung diseases).  

I've also made many fossil molds and casts in recent years, and although I 
often wore a mask while working with plaster, sometimes did not.  I may well 
have accumulated plaster in my lungs as well, which contributed to or 
aggravated my lung condition also.  Plaster hardens when in contact with 
moisture, wherever it occurs, including one's lungs. But I did not have the 
constant lung irritation until after the Ontario trip using the rock saw (on 
hard shales and siltstones), and have had it ever since.

I have another apppointment with the pulmonary doctor on Thursday, but from 
what I have learned such damage is generally irreversible, the best I may hope 
for is to have my condition not get worse.  I may have to live with lung 
irritation and chronic caugh for the rest of my life, plus increased chances 
for the serious conditions I listed above.  
  
So PLEASE, whenever you are cutting or grinding rock of any kind, ALWAYS wear 
a respirator (not just a cheap dust mask).  If working indoors, use a dust 
collecting hood, or don't do it. Your health is not worth any fossil.  

There are serious inhallation dangers in the lab also, including 
solvents, urethanes, glues, and other chemicals used on prep work.  These too 
can have accumulative effects, and lead to a variety of heath problems.  Work 
with such chemicals only with very good ventillation, or under a hood, or 
don't do it.  Again, a fossil is not worth your health.

If I scared anyone, I can't feel too bad, because I wish someone had scared me 
before I did what I did, and may have to pay the price the rest of my life.    
            
Pete, in your case, I hope you do not have any problems, and can only 
urge you not to do it again, at least not without wearing a respirator.
Although any kind of rock dust can be harmful, I would not assume 
that all the material you inhaled was calcium carbonate.  The cement 
between the grains might be, but the sand particles themselves are 
probably siliceous.  

Thank you. 

Glen Kuban
paleo@ix.netcom.com