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Understanding the Difference Between Silica Sand and Washed Sand

Silica sand consists of fine pieces of quartz and other minerals such as salt, silt, clay, dust and various powders. Washed sand goes through a cleaning or “washing” process that removes these additional substances.

MS Industries is a provider of naturally occurring smaller sized silica sand with microproppants and proppants. Our sand is ideal for fracking, which requires smaller sized sand to fill the cracks during the process. Our silica sand is naturally occurring and costs less than other brands. It also has a high purity (greater than 99%), exceeding purity levels of our competitors.

The Characteristics of Silica and Washed Sand

Silica Sand

Silica sand can range from nearly transparent to a darker gray. It is an odorless powder that can cause irritation to the skin or eyes on contact. Inhaling silica sand will also irritate the respiratory tract. In fact, the fine particulates of silica dust from quartz rock contribute to chronic, progressive lung injury, known as silicosis. Additional physical properties include:

  • Molecular Weight: 60.084 g/mol
  • Exact Mass: 59.966756 g/mol
  • Boiling Point: 4046°F at 760 mm Hg
  • Melting Point: 3110°F

Silicon dioxide (SiO2) is a naturally occurring compound of silicon and oxygen. This is the primary compound present in silica sand, which occurs in three main crystalline varieties, including quartz, tridymite, and cristobalite. Covalent bonding of a single silicon atom with two oxygen atoms, creating linear triatomic molecules, forms SiO2. Additional chemical properties of silica sand include:

  • Solubility: Insoluble
  • Vapor Pressure: Approximately 0 mm/Hg
  • Heat Combustion: Noncombustible

Washed Sand

Washed sand can begin as silica sand or any other type of sand and undergoes a washing and rinsing process after mining. Salt, clay, silt, and other powders and dust are washed out of the overall mixture. Washed sand often undergoes additional separating and classification into grain sizes or grit sizing.

The common types of washed sand are as follows:

  • Concrete Sand. This type of washed sand is mixed with concrete or asphalt for construction purposes and provides a smoother pour and cleaner finish.
  • Masonry Sand. Similar to concrete sand, masonry sand is mixed with concrete for construction purposes. This is usually a finer grit sand, which is sifted to achieve greater grain uniformity necessary for masonry bonding.
  • White Sand. This sand is mostly applied where aesthetics are the objective. Sand traps, manmade beaches, beach volleyball courts, and play sand. When the white color isn’t naturally available, limestone is added as a whitener.

Because of washing and sorting, washed sand varieties usually carry a higher price tag than silica sand offerings.

Differences Between Silica Sand and Washed Sand

Applications of Silica Sand and Washed Sand

Both silica sand and washed sand are available for a broad range of applications. Similar applications where use of either is common include:

  • Landscaping
  • Pool installations
  • Providing traction for cars and trucks on slick roads
  • Concrete and mortar mixing

Applications where silica sand is the better choice include:

  • Sand blasting
  • Glass manufacturing
  • Water filtering
  • Backfill for electrical lines and pipes
  • Fracking

Applications where washed sand is preferred include:

  • Mortar mix for brick and stonework
  • Man-made beaches
  • Beach volleyball courts

Silica Sand Options for Your Next Project

MS Industries provides silica sand for a variety of applications in industries like:

  • Oil and Gas
  • Construction and building
  • Tile
  • Roofing
  • Foundry
  • Fiberglass and glass

Contact us to learn more about how silica sand will provide the best solution for your application or request a quote from an MS Industries expert.

How To Minimize Silica Dust Exposure

Silica, also known as quartz, is a commodity used in the making of steel to concrete, glass to rubber, microprocessors to plant soil and more. As workers handle and process these materials, they can create silica dust. This dust contains shards of crystalline silica particles. These nearly invisible particulates, when breathed in, can cause significant health issues.

Understanding Silica Dust Exposure

How Can One Be Exposed to It?

Because silica is used in a vast amount of industries, there are a number of different ways that a person can be exposed to silica dust. Silica dust is most prevalent in the moving of dry silica sand. As the silica moves through any system, the smallest particles get left behind become suspended in the air. The larger amount of silica dust in the air, the greater chance of exposure.

Common Places Where Exposure Happens

The common areas where exposure can occur include:

  • Renovations and Construction. Jackhammers, concrete saws, sandblasters all cause considerable amount of silica dust when breaking up and removing concrete, ceramic tiles, bricks and other building materials.
  • Transportation of Dry Silica. The transportation and transferring of dry silica from truck to tanks, conveyor belts to conveyor belts can cause a significant amount of silica dust.
  • Furnaces. Workers who repair or replace furnaces and their components also run the risk of exposure to crystalline silica particles.

Silicosis and Other Diseases

What Is Silicosis?

Silicosis is a lung disease that can develop when someone breathes in dust containing silica particles. Inhaling the dust can lead to the formation of scar tissue or fibrosis in the lungs, which reduce the lungs’ ability to absorb and process oxygen.
As there is currently no permanent treatment for silicosis, prevention is critical.

What Are the Symptoms of Silicosis?

Silicosis generally occurs in stages after 15–20 years of exposure to silica particles.
Although early stages may have little to no symptoms, continued exposure can result in a noticeable shortness of breath, fever, and bluish coloring at the skin of the lips or ears. Silicosis also increases the risk of the affected person developing other lung diseases, including tuberculosis. As the condition progresses, fatigue starts to set in, along with appetite loss, chest pain, severe shortness of breath, and respiratory failure. Over time, these symptoms can result in death.

What Is Acute Silicosis?

Acute silicosis can occur within weeks or months of exposure to high levels of crystalline silica. Individuals with acute silicosis typically develop sudden symptoms such as fever, chest pains, and difficulty breathing. With high enough concentrations, the prognosis is fatal.

What Is Chronic Silicosis?

Chronic silicosis typically occurs after 10 or more years of exposure to low levels of crystalline silica. It can affect areas of the upper lungs, as well as causes extensive scarring and the above-mentioned symptoms.

What Are Other Diseases Related to Silica Exposure?

Other diseases associated with silica exposure include lung cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and kidney disease.

Understanding Responsibilities and Addressing Silica Dust Exposure

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) established a permissible exposure limit (PEL) that designates the maximum amount of airborne crystalline silica an employee can be exposed to during a work shift.

Understanding the Employer’s Responsibilities

To ensure that their employees’ exposure remains beneath this set limit, employers are obligated to supply and enforce the use of appropriate handling and safety equipment—such as water sprays, ventilation, and respirators—for dust containing crystalline silica particles. Employers may also offer safety training to their employees and health screenings to facilitate the prevention or early treatment of silicosis and other diseases related to silica dust.

Understanding the Employee’s Responsibilites

In addition to using the proper engineering controls and safety gear, employees can take a variety of other measures to limit their exposure to crystalline silica, such as:

  • Participating in educational programs to learn about the dangers of crystalline silica
  • Following appropriate health and safety protocols
  • Utilizing employer-offered health and lung screenings

Addressing Silica Dust Exposure

When in confined spaces, using water spray systems and proper ventilation can limit exposure to silica dust. Using respirators that are specifically designed to protect against silica dust can further reduce the risk of employees breathing in harmful compounds.
Other actions an employee can take to help prevent the spreading of silica dust include thoroughly washing hands before eating or drinking in dusty areas and showering and changing into clean clothes prior to departing the workplace. The former helps keep any silica from spreading from person to person, and the latter prevents the silica from moving to different locations, such as one’s house or vehicle.

Top Five Ways to Minimize Silica Dust Exposure and Prevent Silicosis

The top five ways to minimize silica exposure and prevent the development of silicosis include:

  • Learning about the common areas and applications where exposure to silica dust can occur and how to avoid them/work in them safely
  • Using dust suppressants such as waters, oils and other liquids prevent crystalline silica dust from entering the air
  • Using the proper safety and handling equipment, such as water sprays, ventilation, and respirators
  • Following health and safety instructions given by your employer or medical professionals
  • Washing before eating or drinking and showering and changing after work
  • Utilizing any health and lung screenings offered by your employer