The main component of sand causes many diseases
Silicon dioxide is the most abundant chemical compound in the earth’s crust and the main constituent of sand. A huge number of people at work are exposed to dust that contains this substance. First of all, we are talking about those who work on construction sites, in the steel industry, agriculture, as well as other industries associated with the use, transportation and extraction of this substance.
In 1997, the International Agency for Research on Cancer named silicon dioxide a carcinogen (it can cause lung cancer). Inhalation can also lead to silicosis (overgrowth of connective tissue in the lungs).
Previously, several studies linked the inhalation of dust with silicon dioxide to the development of certain autoimmune diseases of the connective tissue (rheumatic): scleroderma, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus. However, these studies did not allow making unambiguous conclusions.
Silicon dioxide and rheumatic diseases. New data
In a new study, the researchers looked at data on the roughly 3 million people in Denmark, collected from 1979 to 2015. Autoimmune diseases developed in 17 thousand participants in the study, almost one and a half thousand of them were exposed to silica dust at work.
Scientists have found that the action of silica dust is associated with an increase in the overall risk of autoimmune diseases by about 50%. The clearest link was for rheumatoid arthritis (57%) and scleroderma (62%).
Exposure to every additional 50 micrograms of silica per cubic meter throughout the year increased the risk of rheumatic disease in study participants by 4-7%.
Scientists have speculated about the likely mechanism of action of silicon dioxide. Perhaps, after entering the pulmonary alveoli, this substance activates immune mechanisms that activate cells that produce antibodies. In people prone to rheumatic diseases, this can provoke the beginning of the production of autoantibodies – antibodies to the tissues of their own body.
According to Danish and European Union regulations, the concentration of silicon dioxide in the workplace should not exceed 100 micrograms per cubic meter. However, in this study, scientists showed that the link between this substance and the risk of autoimmune diseases becomes evident at much lower concentrations. The maximum permissible concentration of this in the air of the working area of industrial premises in Russia is 1 milligram per cubic meter, 10 times higher than in Europe.