black lung disease


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Black Lung Disease

 

Definition

Black lung disease is the common name for coal workers' pneumoconiosis (CWP) or anthracosis, a lung disease of older workers in the coal industry, caused by inhalation, over many years, of small amounts of coal dust.

Description

The risk of having black lung disease is directly related to the amount of dust inhaled over the years; the disease typically affects workers over age 50. Its common name comes from the fact that the inhalation of heavy deposits of coal dust makes miners lungs look black instead of a healthy pink. Although people who live in cities often have some black deposits in their lungs from polluted air, coal miners have much more extensive deposits.
In the years since the federal government has regulated dust levels in coal mines, the number of cases of black lung disease has fallen sharply. Since the Federal Coal Mine Health and Safety Act of 1969, average dust levels have fallen from 8.0 mg. per cubic meter to the current standard of 2.0 mg. per cubic meter. The 1969 law also set up a black lung disability benefits program to compensate coal miners who have been disabled by on-the-job dust exposure.
Despite the technology available to control the hazard, however, miners still run the risk of developing this lung disease. The risk is much lower today, however; fewer than 10% of coal miners have any x ray evidence of coal dust deposits. When there is such evidence, it often shows up as only small black spots less than 0.4 in (1 cm). in diameter, and may have been caused by smoking rather than coal dust. This condition is called "simple CWP" and does not lead to symptoms or disability.

Causes and symptoms

Since the particles of fine coal dust, which a miner breathes when he is in the mines, cannot be destroyed within the lungs or removed from them, builds up. Eventually, this build-up causes thickening and scarring, making the lungs less efficient in supplying oxygen to the blood.
The primary symptom of the disease is shortness of breath, which gradually gets worse as the disease progresses. In severe cases, the patient may develop cor pulmonale, an enlargement and strain of the right side of the heart caused by chronic lung disease. This may eventually cause right-sided heart failure.
Some patients develop emphysema (a disease in which the tiny air sacs in the lungs become damaged, leading to shortness of breath, and respiratory and heart failure) as a complication of black lung disease. Others develop a severe type of black lung disease called progressive massive fibrosis, in which damage continues in the upper parts of the lungs even after exposure to the dust has ended. Scientists aren't sure what causes this serious complication. Some think that it may be due to the breathing of a mixture of coal and silica dust that is found in certain mines. Silica is far more likely to lead to scarring than coal dust alone.

Diagnosis

Black lung disease can be diagnosed by checking a patient's history for exposure to coal dust, followed by a chest x-ray to discover if the characteristic spots in the lungs caused by coal dust are present. A pulmonary function test may aid in diagnosis.

Key terms

Emphysema — A disease in which the tiny air sacs in the lungs become damaged, leading to shortness of breath, and respiratory and heart failure.
Fibrosis — The growth of scar tissue, often as a response to injury, infection, or inflammation.
Pulmonary function test — A group of procedures used to evaluate the function of the lungs and confirm the presence of certain lung disorders.
Silica dust — A type of dust from silica (crystalline quartz) which causes breathing problems in workers in the fields of mining, stone cutting, quarrying (especially granite), blasting, road and building construction industries that manufacture abrasives, and farming. Breathing the dust causes silicosis, a severe disease that can scar the lungs.
X rays can detect black lung disease before it causes any symptoms. If exposure to the dust is stopped at that point, progression of the disease may be prevented.

Treatment

There is no treatment or cure for this condition, although it is possible to treat complications such as lung infections and cor pulmonale. Further exposure to coal dust must be stopped.

Prognosis

Those miners with simple CWP can lead a normal life. However, patients who develop black lung disease at an early age, or who have progressive massive fibrosis, have a higher risk of premature death.

Prevention

The only way to prevent black lung disease is to avoid long-term exposure to coal dust. Coal mines may help prevent the condition by lowering coal dust levels and providing protective clothes to coal miners.
A light micrograph of a human lung containing particles of inspired coal dust (anthracosis). The black masses shown are groups of coal dust particles.

Resources

Organizations

Mine Safety and Health Administration. 4015 Wilson Blvd. Arlington, VA 22203. (703) 235-1910. http://www.msha.gov.

black lung disease

(1) Anthracosis
(2) Coal workers’ pneumoconiosis

black lung disease

1. Anthracosis, see there.
2. Coal workers' pneumoconiosis, see there.
References in periodicals archive ?
5 million yen in compensation, saying inadequate government steps to prevent black lung disease caused them to contract the disease.
In America in the 21st century, workers should not have to risk illness or death in order to provide for their families, yet more than 10,000 miners with black lung disease have died in the last decade alone.
A group of plaintiffs who claim former miners contracted black lung disease from working in a Mitsui coal mine in Fukuoka Prefecture appealed to the Fukuoka High Court on Friday a lower court ruling rejecting compensation for some of them.
This refusal is potentially dangerous because scrubbers have been shown to be extremely effective at reducing the inhalation of coal dust, which can lead to black lung disease.
59 billion yen in compensation to a group of former miners and their relatives who claimed the miners contracted black lung disease from working in a Mitsui coal mine.
My father died of black lung disease, and I know all too well the awful suffering the disease causes and the economic plight its victims must endure.
Hope cometh in the morning for the children of Appalachia, for coal miners dying of black lung disease every six hours.
agreed Wednesday to pay a total of 115 million yen to a group of former mine workers and their relatives as compensation for pneumoconiosis, or black lung disease.
Stewart's motivation to excel in the law dates back to his childhood, when he had the misfortune of watching his grandfather, a West Virginia coal miner, die from black lung disease.
The Morioka District Court ordered four companies Friday to pay a total of some 174 million yen in damages to 13 former miners who contracted black lung disease while working in Iwate Prefecture, northeastern Japan, from 1939 to 1979.
87 billion yen in redress for pneumoconiosis, or black lung disease.
Since 1985, CSC and the Division of Coal Mine Workers' Compensation have worked together in support of the Black Lung Act of 1969 by providing quality service to coal miners afflicted with pneumoconiosis, or black lung disease.