Although elemental silicon is inert and not inherently dangerous, certain processed forms of the element can cause negative health effects. Crystalline silicon irritates the eyes and causes skin inflammation on contact, while inhalation of the substance aggravates the mucous membranes of the respiratory system.
Studies suggest that regular occupational exposure to crystalline silicon and silica leads to lung cancer, bronchitis, chronic pulmonary obstructive disorder and emphysema. Additionally, silica exposure is linked to autoimmune and renal disorders as well as an increase in mycobacterial infections. Many occupational roles are at risk for regular silicon exposure including miners, pottery workers, brick-makers and others who work in mineral-based industries.