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What is Silica Sand?

A pile of silica sand.
Silica sand exposure has been linked to lung cancer.
Most silica sand is made from broken down quartz crystals.
A person sandblasting using silica sand.
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  • Written By: Brendan McGuigan
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 30 August 2014
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Silica sand is one of the most common varieties of sand found in the world. It is used for a wide range of applications, and can be purchased from various suppliers throughout the world. Silica sand is used in industrial processing, to make glass, as fill, and to create molds and castings.

Sand is the general term for broken down granules of minerals or rocks, technically between about one-sixteenth of a millimeter to two millimeters in diameter, falling between silt and gravel in the spectrum of sizes. There are many varieties of sand in the world, each with their own unique composition and qualities. The white sandy beaches of iconic tropical destinations, for example, are made up primarily of limestone that has been broken down, while many black sands are either volcanic in origin or contain magnetite. Other sands have high levels of iron in them, and so are rich and yellow in color.

The most common mineral in the Earth’s continental crust is quartz, and most silica sand is made up of broken down quartz crystals. Silica is another name for silicon dioxide, SiO2, of which quartz is a specific latticed structure. So silica sand is quartz that over the years, through the work of water and wind, has been broken down into tiny granules. These granules can be used for many different purposes, and can be found in most non-tropical regions of the world.

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Silica sand is used throughout the world, and in so many different ways it is hard to imagine a world without it. From water filtration, to glass manufacture, to industrial casting, to sand blasting, to producing concrete, to adding texture to slick roads, silica sand impacts every aspect of daily life. Many industrial suppliers carry silica sand in bulk quantities, while some smaller household stores sell it in smaller amounts for home or home construction use. One of the major uses of silica sand in the modern world is as an ingredient in industrial concrete. Silica sand produces the bulk of a great deal of concrete, although some concrete bypasses its use for safety and strength reasons. At industrial scales, silica sand can cost less than $0.50 US Dollars (USD) per pound, while the consumer rate is around $1.50 USD per pound.

Because of the fine grains involved in silica sand, it can present a health risk if not properly handled. In projects where products containing silica sand are being cut or pounded, such as demolition projects involving concrete, or sandblasting operations, care must be taken to keep the silica sand out of the lungs. Failure to wear a respirator or mask can result in lung irritation, and prolonged exposure can cause a chronic condition known as silicosis. Silicosis has no ready treatment, and can cause severe pain or death. Additionally, silicosis increases the likelihood of secondary infections, such as tuberculosis, and has been linked to an increased incidence of lung cancer. As a result, all materials containing more than 0.1% of silica sand must be clearly labeled, and workplace health codes apply.

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anon961949
Post 28

Can anyone test silica sand for equestrian use only?

anon333224
Post 25

Should silica sand be used in children's sand boxes? Is it safe?

anon323969
Post 24

Would it be all right to use silica sand on fine turf, like a bowling green?

DylanB
Post 23

I remember playing with colored silica sand in elementary school art class. We layered it inside bottles, and we also used it on sticky boards to make drawings.

I have always loved playing with sand. Colored sand was even better, because I could actually see what I made with it without having to make a sculpture like a sand castle.

cloudel
Post 22

I live in the southern United States, and we rarely see snowstorms. When snow or ice is predicted, trucks pour washed silica sand onto the bridges and in rows along the major highways to give vehicles traction.

No one around here has snow tires, and few people have even bothered to purchase chains. We usually only get a couple of inches of snow a year, and it is rarely mixed with ice, so it isn't very slick and it melts off the road quickly.

However, last year, we got two major snowstorms. We had eight inches of snow each time, which was much more than people were prepared for.

The silica sand on the bridges and highways helped, but many people didn't know that they still needed to drive under 30 mph to avoid slipping, so there were a few wrecks during this time. I shudder to think of how bad the wrecks would have been if no silica sand had been used!

seag47
Post 21

@healthy4life – Silica sand suppliers get there sand from mines in Illinois, Wisconsin, Iowa, and Minnesota. I live near a mine in Minnesota that is just full of this sand.

I've also heard that it can be found along some riverbeds. I've never seen it myself, but it makes sense that it would be found near rapidly moving water.

healthy4life
Post 20

I've never had the need to buy silica sand, but I do wonder where it can be found naturally. I was fascinated to read that the soft white sand in the tropics is actually broken down limestone, and I also find it interesting that silica sand is broken down quartz. Does silica sand exist naturally in the United States, and if so, where?

anon275911
Post 14

Any idea where to source for suppliers of silica sand in Malaysia?

anon272046
Post 13

I hear that silica sand can be used to kill bed bugs. Is this true? If so, how and where would you put the sand?

anon251363
Post 11

Can someone tell me what the flashpoint of silica sand is?

anon246937
Post 10

In Libya we have the most pure silica and our desert in huge. In some places the purity is as high as 99.6 percent. So I am planning to open a factory for producing silica metal for manufacturing semiconductors and other things, especially for solar cells.

anon155110
Post 7

Our town is considering a silica sand plant. People are very concerned about health findings with the sand. They are afraid that the sand will get into our air and cause problems.

There is a plastics factory near where they want to build the silica plant. They say they will move out because they make items for hospitals and the silica plant would pollute the air.

anon149061
Post 6

I'm a student and I want to know where can you get silica sand.

anon147107
Post 5

how much does silica cost if the silica content is 99.5 percent?

anon146662
Post 4

SiO2+NaOH==> Na2SiO3 ( 230 oC in autoclave to make sodium silicate)

anon130774
Post 3

I'm a student. I need some advice. How can I dissolve silica sand? I want to produce sodium silicate for synthesis of zeolite.

tmacsgirl
Post 2

Silica, particularly in the form of quartz, is the most common mineral resistant to weathering. This resistance is due to the mineral's hardness and chemical dormancy. Sandy soils are great for growing watermelon, peaches, and peanuts.

Sand ranges in color and texture depending on which region it exists. The bright white sands of tropical coastal settings are often composed of limestone and shell fragments, while Southern European sands often contain iron impurities that cause its color to be a deep yellow.

cmsmith10
Post 1

Silica sand is used to make glass. As a general rule, the purer the sand is, the clearer the glass. If there are impurities in the sand, discoloration happens.

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