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The dangers of asbestos exposure are well documented, with hundreds of people across the world dying from asbestos related illnesses each year. Hugh James has worked with many families over the years who have suffered following illnesses such as mesothelioma and lung cancer after asbestos exposure, but a little known threat, equally as dangerous, is beginning to emerge in the form of crystalline silica exposure.

Crystalline silica a naturally occurring substance and is a basic component of soil, sand, granite cement and many others. The main difference between the two is how people are exposed. Asbestos can become airborne quite easily whereas crystalline silica is often found in solid substances, which need to be processed to extract the silica compound. Asbestos can also cause harm from minimal exposure whereas illnesses from crystalline silica are caused from high levels of exposure.

Those at risk tend to be people who have worked in foundry, cement or quarry works as well as individuals who cut stone, manufacture building materials or carry out sand blasting. The most common illness from crystalline silica exposure is known as silicosis, however, many will simply be told they have respiratory disease.

The Asbestos Illness Team at Hugh James in Cardiff, Wales, have investigated crystalline silica exposure, and when asked whether the substance is as dangerous as asbestos, they answered no.  Crystalline silica is harmful but will only impact certain individuals with very specific job roles and exposure levels. Asbestos, however, was widely used throughout various industries from the 1950s to 1990s. The majority of people would assume that asbestos related illnesses are caused by having an industrial work background, but the heavy use of asbestos in construction means that more and more people are coming forward with illnesses after working in historic public buildings such as schools, hospitals and libraries.

Millions of pounds have been paid in personal injury compensation claims for asbestos exposure illnesses such as mesothelioma, but we are yet to see whether illnesses caused by crystalline silica exposure will be compensated in England and Wales.

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