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Silicon dioxide sources, health risks

Wednesday, October 11, 2017 by

Silicon dioxide, also known as silica, is an odorless, tasteless, and naturally occurring compound made of silicon and oxygen. This mineral comes in three different states: crystalline (the most abundant form), synthetic, and amorphous (the rarest form). The crystalline form is especially plentiful in the earth’s crust, where it comprises roughly 90 percent of its composition. Beyond that, silicon dioxide can be found in rocks, plants, and even the human body. Quartz is the most common form of silicon dioxide and serves as a component of sand, concrete, and stone.

Once used in early metallurgical and glass-making operations, silicon dioxide is now being utilized in numerous applications. For example, the absorbent quality of amorphous silica (one of the many varieties of silicon dioxide) makes it excellent anti-caking agent, while the hardness of silicon dioxide has made it a typical ingredient in toothpaste.

While harmless for the most part, there are numerous health risks and side effects associated with silicon dioxide. These usually vary depending on a number of factors, such as the number of particles, duration and frequency of exposure, and concentration.

Harmful effects that can be caused by silicon dioxide

Silicon dioxide is dangerous when inhaled. Doing so can bring about silicosis, a respiratory condition caused by inhaling great amounts of silicon dioxide over a long period of time. Silicon dioxide particles don’t dissolve easily and can build up, causing irritation and cuts that can scar the sensitive lung tissues. Once scarred, the lungs are unable to open and close properly, leading to difficulty breathing, shortness of breath, and the increased risk of respiratory infections like tuberculosis. Silicosis symptoms include night sweats, respiratory failure, chest pain, and fever. Those who are most at risk of silicosis are employees involved in masonry, factory, and mine work.

In addition to silicosis, one other respiratory condition linked to silicon dioxide powder exposure is lung cancer. The carcinogenic nature of silicon dioxide is believed to be caused by the presence of oxygen-enriched silica nanoparticles. According to the researchers behind a 2016 study, these nanoparticles were found to possess magnetic properties that lead to the formation of reactive oxygen species, one of the suspected major causes of cancer.

Although silicon dioxide can be found in food and vitamin supplements, ingesting pure silicon dioxide can cause mouth and throat irritation, dehydration, and discomfort. Consumption of larger amounts of silicon dioxide can bring about nausea. Trace amounts of pure silicon dioxide can be consumed without adverse health effects, however.

The absorbent property of silicon dioxide can harm the eyes since it can absorb the moisture on the eyes’ surface. This can, in turn, lead to irritation and redness.

A similar effect has been observed in individuals who’ve had direct skin contact with silicon dioxide. In addition to this, silicon dioxide can dry out the skin.

Body systems harmed by silicon dioxide

Silicon dioxide can be dangerous to the respiratory system, eyes, and skin. The respiratory system is most at risk during silicon dioxide dust exposure, as all that can be done for individuals with silicosis is to assist them in managing the condition. There is currently no known cure for silicosis, making its prevention all the more important for workers involved in the handling of silicon dioxide.

According to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), silicon dioxide has also been observed targeting the immune system and the renal system. One 1978 study conducted by Czech researchers found evidence of damage to the urinary systems of mice after they were injected with silica gel polymers. A more recent study in 2012 noted a positive association between silicon dioxide exposure and chronic kidney disease.

Where to learn more


Silicon dioxide is a heavily abundant and widely used mineral that can pose serious health risks, depending on its form. The powdered form is the most dangerous as it can damage the respiratory system, eyes, and skin. It can increase the risk for lung cancer and tuberculosis, as well as cause a lung condition called silicosis. In addition, silicon dioxide can harm the immune and renal system.

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