We’ve talked in previous posts about the health hazards of silica, and about the new OSHA regulations on silica dust exposure. Fortunately, there are solutions that can control silica dust on hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) sites. Imperial Systems Inc. president and CEO Jeremiah Wann saw first-hand the struggles companies were having. There didn’t seem to be any good hydraulic fracturing silica dust solutions available for them.


Most solutions offered for silica dust exposure control were either impractical or not effective. Most respirators cannot handle the extremely high levels of silica in the air around the equipment at these sites, and respirators are often used incorrectly or not used at all. Stationary collection systems cannot be installed on sand moving trucks or on belts transporting sand across the site. Portable equipment is often bulky and requires ductwork and its own power supply.


Jeremiah spoke to managers and engineers at worksites about their issues. He found out about the problems that they were currently having, and the reasons the available options weren’t good enough.


Complicated Hydraulic Fracturing work site



Jeremiah found that one of the main issues in designing hydraulic fracturing silica solutions was the complexity of a fracking site. These are large areas with complex logistics, where sand has to be transferred between trucks, dumped onto belts, carried across the site, and loaded into mixers or storage containers.


Most silica control systems don’t work well on these sites. Standard equipment can’t be mounted on sand transport vehicles. Many systems have complex ductwork and need separate sources of power and compressed air. Running all of this to a collector can be extremely difficult under the conditions of a hydraulic fracturing site. Portable collectors are difficult to move around heavy equipment, too small to handle the dust load, and still require a separate power source.



Jeremiah realized that a dust collector used as a hydraulic fracturing silica solution needed to be as hassle-free and self-contained as possible. His patented solution was a CMAXX dust collector designed to be installed directly at the sources of silica release, even if these sources were on moving trucks. To accomplish this, all the connections to external ducts, compressed air, and power had to be cut.


The CMAXX for hydraulic fracturing sites is a complete plug-and-play system, the first and only fully integrated dust collector for fracking sand equipment. It can be mounted on sand transport trucks, at the points where sand is being moved onto and off of transport belts, and over mixers and other equipment. The fans and airlocks are operated with hydraulics powered by the vehicle, and the compressed air is powered by a generator.


Silica Dust at the Hydraulic Fracturing site


The CMAXX runs and pulse cleans automatically whenever the equipment is running. This means there’s no need to turn it on and off, and no chance of someone forgetting and using the equipment without the collector on. No extra ductwork, hoses, or wiring makes it an ideal hydraulic fracturing silica solution. By listening to the needs and concerns of the people who work on fracking sites, Jeremiah was able to design a solution that reduced visible silica emissions up to 99% across the entire site.


As an added bonus, controlling silica emissions at the source prevents the entire site from being covered with silica. Without fugitive silica escaping from all the transfer points, there is less silica for trucks and other vehicles to stir up as they drive around. Also, there is silica to be blown around on windy days. Overall respiratory health all over the site is improved.


If you’re looking for a hydraulic fracturing silica solution, the CMAXX is the patented, unique solution for almost any piece of sand-moving equipment. With enforcement of OSHA’s new silica law coming up next year, now is a great time to start thinking about an investment that’s going to control silica exposure at the source.





Hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) is a process used to extract oil and gas by high-pressure fracturing of rock or shale. Exposure to respirable crystalline silica is a major hazard in this industry. Massive amounts of sand are used in the process, and silica exposure is a constant issue.

NIOSH has identified silica exposure as the single biggest health issue in hydraulic fracturing. Their research also demonstrated that silica levels on these sites are so high that standard respirators are not sufficient for protection. With a 2018 deadline for hydraulic fracturing sites to comply with new OSHA limits for silica exposure, new tactics for silica dust control are needed.




The hydraulic fracking industry uses huge amounts of sand (silica). Most grains are 2 mm or smaller in size. By some estimates, the average site requires somewhere between 1 and 7 million pounds of sand over its lifetime.

After high-pressure water and chemicals are pumped into the rocks to create fractures, the spaces must be filled with sand to keep them open and allow oil and gas to flow. So much sand is used in this industry that mining and production of “frac sand” has become a major industry of its own.


FRAC sand production chart in the United States

(Frac sand production: This chart illustrates the spectacular rise in the production of frac sand in the United States. Data from the United States Geological Survey Minerals Yearbook, Silica, 2011)





image: National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health/Centers for Disease Control and Prevention/OSHA/CDC

Massive amounts of silica move around a hydraulic fracturing site. NIOSH has identified several points in the silica moving process that create the largest amount of silica dust. These areas are:

  • Open hatches on sand movers
  • Through side ports on sand movers during refilling
  • Depositing sand onto transfer belts
  • Sand moving on transfer belts between movers, hoppers, and blenders
  • Blender hoppers that mix sand
  • Accumulated dust stirred up by vehicles driving around the site


NIOSH strongly recommends that engineering controls be put in place to control silica exposure at these points. They emphasize that the silica exposure at these points in the process is so heavy that respirators do not provide enough protection.



In some situations, newer equipment has been designed to minimize silica dust release. In other situations, older equipment can be modified or rebuilt to these designs.

For many companies, especially with the industry still recovering from the severe drop in oil prices several years ago, these expensive modifications aren’t reasonable.

Another option is to install dust collectors directly on the equipment. A collector specially designed for hydraulic fracturing equipment can be fitted on sand movers, transfer belts, and blenders. With these systems installed, the amount of silica dust released is much lower.

Controlling silica release at these points of capture can decrease silica exposure all over the site. With less silica dust escaping, the overall amount of fugitive silica dust around the site is more manageable. This helps with the amount of dust raised by vehicles or wind all over the site.






Lung disease from inhaling sand or rock dust is one of the oldest occupational hazards. The health risks of silica were identified as early as 1700. Silicosis, the incurable lung disease caused by inhaling silica dust, causes hundreds of deaths every year. Other health effects include liver and immune system diseases. After studying the research, OSHA concluded that the current silica exposure limits were too high. A new silica exposure limit needed to be set to protect workers.


Some silica exposure still comes from well-known occupations like stone cutting, mining, and drilling. Abrasive blasting with sand is especially dangerous. However, newer industries have created new sources of exposure. One example of this is hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, for oil and gas.  Another example is the popularity of natural and manufactured stone countertops.  All of these industries must achieve compliance with OSHA’s new silica law to keep workers safe.




Silica is one of the most common elements on earth. It makes up a major part of sand, rocks, and all products made from those things, like concrete.

The major health risks of silica happen when it is inhaled into the lungs. Silica that is small enough to be inhaled is called “respirable crystalline silica” in formal OSHA language. Drilling or grinding creates fine silica dust, and sand is already a form of crystalline silica that can become airborne, especially during blasting or fracking operations.

The biggest concern with silica is a disease called silicosis. The American Lung Association warns about the permanent lung damage that happens with this disease.

Silicosis happens when silica dust damages the lining of the tiny air sacs in the lungs. This injury causes scarring and makes it harder for the air sacs to get oxygen into your body.

Acute silicosis can occur within weeks or months of very heavy exposure. In this case, the lungs respond to the injury by swelling up and filling with fluid. This can be very dangerous and make it very hard to breathe.

Chronic silicosis is the most common kind. The swelling and scarring of the lungs happens over years. Symptoms include coughing, chest pain, and sometimes tiredness and weight loss. The scarring can progress to a condition called progressive massive fibrosis, where the lungs become stiff and full of scar tissue. When the disease is severe, people may need oxygen support to be able to breathe. Silicosis can cause death.

The health risks of silica include other deadly conditions. Silica is a known carcinogen, meaning it causes lung cancer. It also makes you more likely to get lung diseases like emphysema, tuberculosis or bronchitis. NIOSH, the research arm of OSHA, reviewed all of the studies on silica exposure and wrote a detailed report on it.




OSHA recommends that the first line of defense is replacing silica with safer materials. This isn’t always an option. Replacement products may be expensive or just not available. Silica is common, cheap, and stable, which makes it hard to replace.

The second line of defense, and usually the best option when possible, is using engineering controls. A popular engineering control is a dust collector. A dust collection system removes silica dust from the work area and captures it safely so it can be reused or disposed of. Just venting the dust out of the work area means that it ends up somewhere else, and that can be a problem.

A dust collector filters silica dust from the air. The dust drops into a hopper for safe handling. The air can be returned to the work area. The system can clean a large area and keep an entire facility free of silica dust.

Dust collectors can also be installed on equipment such as sand trucks or conveyors to control silica dust when moving sand around. This is important in fracking applications.

In situations like construction or drilling, the best solution may be a NIOSH-certified respirator. Because respirators are uncomfortable and difficult to fit correctly, they are not the ideal solution. Sometimes, though, they are the only option. If you must wear a respirator to protect you from the health risks of silica, make sure it is NIOSH-certified for the job you’re doing, and make sure it fits correctly.


In 2016, OSHA issued a new silica dust rule for exposure. Now the clock is ticking for industries to achieve compliance. The construction industry has less than six months to get there. For general industry, you have about a year and a half, which goes by fast when it comes to getting into compliance with an OSHA regulation.


The silica dust rule lowered the exposure limit to 50 micrograms per cubic meter of air, averaged over an eight-hour day. This limit has been recommended by NIOSH and other health groups for decades. It is expected to save many lives by preventing silicosis, the lung disease caused by breathing silica dust.

CMAXX Filtration System Silica Dust Rule

This CMAXX Dust Collector was installed on a conveyor line to collect dust and protect employees and the environment.


The construction industry is required to be in compliance by June 23, 2017. For general industry, the deadline is June 23, 2018.


This is also the deadline for most fracking processes, although they will have extra time to work out engineering controls. This extended deadline for engineering controls, such as dust collection systems or changes in their processes, exists because OSHA considers these methods to be the best and most effective.


Considering that OSHA had been issuing fines and strongly enforcing the previous silica dust rule, it should be expected that they will enforce the new rule as well. If you were near or above the limit before, you’re going to be drastically over the limit now unless you take steps to control silica dust exposure.


It’s easy to look at June 2018 as being a long way away, especially when you have more urgent challenges to deal with right now. However, getting into compliance with the silica dust rule may take time. Engineering controls, such as dust collectors, often require researching products and taking bids. Once a product is chosen, there’s the timeline for building and installing your system. There is also the time required to run the system, work out the bugs, and make sure your silica dust levels are now under control.



The construction industry will get hit with the new limits first, so it’s expected to be a major target for enforcement. However, there are a lot of activities that fall under general industry and get hit in 2018. These include:

  • Clay, brick, and concrete production
  • Foundries and refractories
  • Landscaping and renovating
  • Stone products (including natural and artificial stone for countertops and other surfaces)
  • Abrasive blasting (in manufacturing and on construction or renovation sites)
  • Hydraulic fracking



A dust collection system like the CMAXX, BRF Baghouse, or SHADOW will be most effective in applications like foundries, stone and clay manufacturing processes, and abrasive blasting. For these applications, a dust collector may be the best way to achieve compliance with the silica dust rule.


One area that is expected to be a major target for OSHA is the hydraulic fracking industry. This is a relatively new industry, and massive amounts of silica are moved around these sites every day. Imperial Systems has unique solutions for the fracking industry, especially for sand-moving equipment and vehicles. This industry faces particular challenges in reaching compliance with the new silica dust rule.