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Silica in Breath Research

HSE are to investigate a practical tool to assess silica exposure. Exposure to respirable crystalline silica (RCS) can cause silicosis and lung cancer. In GB it is estimated that 600 people die per year from lung cancer caused by silica exposure at work. This HSE project is to develop a new scientific approach to determine silica containing particles in a worker's breath sample.

What is EBC?

Exhaled breath condensate (EBC) is the collection of air that we breathe out, cooled down into a liquid that can then be analysed. EBC is a "clean" sample (>99% water) collected by simply breathing into a tube. If we measure the liquid sample for silica particles it is possible to see if particles are present.

How do we collect the sample?

Simply by breathing normally through a disposable, sterile mouthpiece for 15 minutes.

Exhaled breath condensate sampling kit showing a small chilling unit about 20cm wide, 6 cm deep and 30 cm high with a long plastic tube attached. The tube has a mouthpiece into which the worker breathes.

What will we do with the sample?

We will analyse the samples for silica containing particles (Si-particles) at HSE's laboratory in Buxton. We will report a summary of all the results and share it with you.

Why is it important to measure exposure to silica?

The quick answer is to help reduce workplace exposures. Finding Si-particles in a EBC sample could suggest that exposure has occurred. Simply the more particles found the more exposure.

Will you help?

HSE scientists need to visit a range of different workplaces where exposure to silica might occur, to collect samples from volunteers.

What will it involve?

HSE scientists will be on site for one whole day, ideally collecting worker samples first thing in the morning before any work is done and then in the afternoon towards the end of the shift.

The EBC sample takes 15 minutes to collect. We can collect samples from four workers at a time. Collecting samples should be within normal working hours and dutyholders should take this into account when considering taking part in the study.

It will also be necessary to take some static air and bulk samples to help with the understanding of the exposure.

What will the result mean?

The results will tell us if by measuring Si-particles in a worker's breath we can better assess workplace exposure. We hope to develop a routine screening method for silica in breath and for this to be used to demonstrate effective control and management of exposure.

If you would like to discuss further or be involved, please contact Dr Jackie Morton.

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