'Black lung is back' researcher says

May 17, 2013

The dangers of coal mining enter the spotlight periodically when disasters strike, but one West Virginia University researcher argues that coal mine dust exposure, which has caused an increase in the prevalence and severity of chronic lung diseases, is happening every day and deserves more attention.

In a concise clinical review published online last month in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, Edward Petsonk, M.D., and two other respected lung specialists provide an update on recent advances in the understanding of miners' respiratory health issues.

Titled " Lung Disease: New Lessons from an Old Exposure," the article focuses on the spectrum of disease caused by inhalation of coal mine dust, termed coal mine dust lung disease (CMDLD). The print version of the paper will be published June 1.

A professor in the Section of Pulmonary and Critical Care in the WVU School of Medicine Department of Medicine, Dr. Petsonk has been researching occupational lung disease since 1979. His work has revealed that young coal miners are getting sicker than their older counterparts, while coal workers' pneumoconiosis (CWP), better known as "black lung disease," is becoming more lethal. This is all in spite of safety mandates at coal mines that were established in 1969, along with requirements that coal operators offer underground employees periodic chest X-rays.

"This is very important to the people of West Virginia and particularly to the people who work in coal mines," Petsonk said. "We have identified clusters or pockets of disease in southern West Virginia, eastern Kentucky, western Virginia and some areas of Pennsylvania. Black lung disease does occur in in Illinois, Indiana, Utah, Colorado and other coal mining states, but fewer miners have the disease. In the cluster areas, black lung disease is both more prevalent and more severe."

In addition to black lung disease, coal miners are at increased risk for silicosis, mixed dust pneumoconiosis and dust-related diffuse fibrosis, as well as chronic airway diseases like emphysema and chronic bronchitis. In the article, Petsonk wrote that there is an "increased sense of urgency and the need for vigilance in medical research, clinical diagnosis and exposure prevention." He emphasized the role of chest physicians in recognizing and managing in coal miners.

"Sadly, black lung is back," Petsonk said. "The number of miners stricken with dust disease has been increasing since about the year 2000, when it was at its lowest level in 30 years."

Petsonk and his co-authors believe the increase in disease has multiple explanations, including flaws in existing regulations, dust control practices and enforcement. They reported that the science clearly demonstrates that the type of massive lung scarring seen on coal miners' chest X-rays does not occur from tobacco smoking and must be related to the miners breathing in excessive amounts of dust.

"This article should help physicians be more effective in evaluating and managing miners' respiratory problems," Petsonk added.

Explore further: Mortality higher in Appalachian coal mining counties compared to non-coal mining areas

More information: www.atsjournals.org/doi/pdf/10 … 4/rccm.201301-0042CI

Related Stories

Mortality higher in Appalachian coal mining counties compared to non-coal mining areas

March 18, 2013
West Virginia counties with coal mining activity have higher total mortality rates than their non-coal mining Appalachian counterparts, a University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health analysis revealed.

Domestic coal use linked to substantial lifetime risk of lung cancer in Xuanwei, China

August 30, 2012
The use of "smoky coal" for household cooking and heating is associated with a substantial increase in the lifetime risk of developing lung cancer, finds a study from China published in the British Medical Journal today.

Reports from "Humans 2 Mars Summit" suggest dust may prevent human settlement of Mars

May 10, 2013
(Phys.org) —Reports given by experts in the space-health field suggest it might take longer for humans to build a colony on Mars than has been expected. Such experts speaking to attendees at the recent "Humans 2 Mars Summit" ...

Recommended for you

High-fat diet in pregnancy can cause mental health problems in offspring

July 21, 2017
A high-fat diet not only creates health problems for expectant mothers, but new research in an animal model suggests it alters the development of the brain and endocrine system of their offspring and has a long-term impact ...

To combat teen smoking, health experts recommend R ratings for movies that depict tobacco use

July 21, 2017
Public health experts have an unusual suggestion for reducing teen smoking: Give just about any movie that depicts tobacco use an automatic R rating.

Why sugary drinks and protein-rich meals don't go well together

July 20, 2017
Having a sugar-sweetened drink with a high-protein meal may negatively affect energy balance, alter food preferences and cause the body to store more fat, according to a study published in the open access journal BMC Nutrition.

Opioids and obesity, not 'despair deaths,' raising mortality rates for white Americans

July 20, 2017
Drug-related deaths among middle-aged white men increased more than 25-fold between 1980 and 2014, with the bulk of that spike occurring since the mid-1990s when addictive prescription opioids became broadly available, according ...

Aging Americans enjoy longer life, better health when avoiding three risky behaviors

July 20, 2017
We've heard it before from our doctors and other health experts: Keep your weight down, don't smoke and cut back on the alcohol if you want to live longer.

Parents have critical role in preventing teen drinking

July 20, 2017
Fewer teenagers are drinking alcohol but more needs to be done to curb the drinking habits of Australian school students, based on the findings of the latest study by Adelaide researchers.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.