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Silicosis is a Lung Disease You Get from Masonry Dust—It Can Kill You

Being safety conscious doesn't make you a sissy
July 07, 2022

Bricklayer Chris Johnson developed acute silicosis after a few months on a job that involved re-pointing and cutting in expansion joints. His only respiratory protection was a paper mask.

"Soon after, doctors diagnosed him with a permanent, debilitating lung disease called silicosis."

—Chris Johnson, a former bricklayer

There is no treatment for Chris's type of silicosis short of lung transplants.

"The problem is that the air sacks in the lungs are filled up with this thick material so the air can't get into the body."

—Dr. William Beckett, Lung disease specialist, Harvard Medical School

The image shows a slice of a lung with filled air sacks. You can see a sizable percentage is unusable.

Chris' surgeon told him that his odds of living through a lung transplant were slim and Chris didn't want to put his family through that. Instead, his doctors tried to clear one of his lungs with a procedure called lavage, but it didn't really improve much.

He had a second lavage, which helped a bit more, but he has not been back to work since 2004.

"I guess I thought I was invincible ... something like that—taking me down, and it being the cause of what I do for a living ... was kinds tough to deal with."

—Chris Johnson

Prevention is simple: keep the dust out of your lungs. Dr. Beckett points out that the required technology is generally low technology. The simplest way to keep the dust out of your lungs is to pour water on the blades and bits. Another way is to wear a respirator. Another way is to do both.

"I see a lot of guys jackhammering with a lot of dust around, and no mask. The only thing they wear is eye protection, and some of them don't even use that."

—Chris Johnson

Chris is forty years old and his life expectancy is forty-five. Read his full story.

Video: Maryam Jameel

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