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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
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
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