Silica Exposures in Artisanal Small-Scale Gold Mining in Tanzania and Implications for Tuberculosis Prevention
Gold miners exposed to crystalline silica are at risk of silicosis, lung cancer, and experience higher incidence rates of pulmonary tuberculosis (TB). Although the hazards associated with mercury exposure in artisanal small-scale gold mining (ASGM) have been well documented, no published data was available on crystalline silica exposures in this population. Air sampling was conducted in the breathing zone of workers in five villages in Tanzania with battery-operated sampling pumps and bulk samples were collected to measure the type and concentration of crystalline silica in the ore. Samples were analyzed at an accredited laboratory with X-ray diffraction. Airborne crystalline silica exposures exceeded recommended limits for all tasks monitored with an average exposure of 16.85 mg/m3 for underground drilling that was 337 fold greater than the recommended exposure limit (REL) published by the U.S. National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) and 0.19 mg/m3 for aboveground operations or 4-fold greater than the REL. The exposures measured raise concern for possible acute and chronic silicosis and are known to significantly contribute to TB incidence rates in mining communities. The use of wet methods could greatly reduce exposures and the risk of TB and silicosis in ASGM. Ongoing efforts to address mercury and other hazards in ASGM should incorporate crystalline silica dust controls.