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Dangerous Dust: The Silicosis Hazard in American Industry

by Leonard Greenburg, M.D.

Executive Director, Division of Industrial Hygiene, New York State Department of Labor

December 1936

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A third method of preventing silicosis is to enclose the process as completely as is possible without interfering with work, the worker being outside the enclosure and so removed from the dusty zone.

A fourth method of dust control is to withdraw the dust laden air from the workplace. This is done by providing exhaust hoods or enclosures equipped with suction ventilation as the photographs show.

In certain industrial processes it is impossible to protect the worker by any of these methods. In such cases the workers must wear masks or respirators which filter the dust from the air before it enters the respiratory tract, or use helmets which cover the head and are supplied with clean air through a hose line. But such equipment, while highly efficient when properly maintained, is cumbersome and the worker is apt to find its use a burden. It should only be employed where other methods do not adequately clear the air.

If every industry today utilized the known engineering means to control dust hazards in shops and workrooms, our problem would not be completely met but certainly we should be a long way toward its practical solution. There is need for a program of education and guidance which will help industry understand the silicosis problem and the most efficient means of solving it. Common lawsuits for damages, the passage of compensation acts, the Gauley Bridge water tunnel and other tragic experiences have served to make employers silicosis conscious. Industry shows an increasing readiness to cooperate in eliminating the dust hazard from its work places.

Progress in the field of public health is, as a rule, not achieved until those vitally concerned become aware of the bearing of a suggested program on their own well being. Publicity and educational effort have thus become vital to the public health movement. Frequently the public is convinced of the importance of public health measures without being aware of educational propaganda. A small epidemic may achieve wide educational results.

It is characteristic of the public health movement that the transfer of information from physicians and research workers to the general public marks the final stage in the conquest of disease. There is great likelihood that this will be proved true once again and that the attack on silicosis which is now developing marks the real beginning of the eradication of dust hazards in American industry.

FIVE hundred thousand American wage earners breathe quartz dust as they work, according to the figures of Lenz and Vane of the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company. But by no means all these workers are potential silicosis victims, for many of them are exposed to low concenbations of dust, or to dust relatively low in quartz content.
Process Number Exposed
Foundry Workers 200,000
Building and Highway Construction 100,000
Potteries, Glass Works, Stone Product 70,000
Grinden, Buffers, Sand Blasting, etc. 62,000
Metal Mining 62,000
Anthracite Coal Mining 30,000
Quarrying of Granite, Ganister, Sandstone 22,000
Smelting and Refining 18,000



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