New research conducted in Tanzania has found that silica dust in small-scale gold mining is linked to silicosis and tuberculosis (TB) epidemic, while the hazards in large gold mines are less.
According to the research in the article titled 'Silica Exposures in Artisanal Small-Scale Gold Mining in Tanzania and Implications for Tuberculosis Prevention' exposures to silica are more than two hundred time greater in small-scale artisanal mines compared to larger mines.
The study was published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Health. It further noted that rates of TB among miners in Africa are about 5-6 times higher compared to the general population.
It was found by researchers that the average airborne crystalline silica levels in underground gold mining operations were 337 times greater than the recommended limit, which is specified by the US National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health.
Almost 15 million artisanal miners worldwide are said to working without any dust control measures, the study noted.
Occupational Knowledge International executive director Perry Gottesfeld said: "Silica dust hazards are being ignored while thousands of miners die each year due to silicosis and the alarmingly high rates of TB in these mining communities."
"A recent global treaty has emphasised reducing mercury exposures among these gold miners, while silica dust hazards are overlooked, although they are likely to cause much more death and disease."
Due to the combination of silica exposures and higher background rates of people with HIV, mining communities in sub-Saharan Africa are experiencing an epidemic of TB.
The study author Damian Andrew said: "The use of low-cost methods to control airborne dust could significantly reduce exposures and the risk of TB and silicosis in these communities."
"Simple measures including water misting would be an effective method to greatly reduce silica dust exposures."
Silica dust is said to be linked to TB and other lung diseases. It is a known cause of silicosis and lung cancer.