Pneumoconiosis and Advanced Occupational Lung Disease Among Surface Coal Miners

16 States, 2010–2011
Coal workers' pneumoconiosis (CWP) is a chronic occupational lung disease caused by long-term inhalation of dust, which triggers inflammation of the alveoli, eventually resulting in irreversible lung damage. CWP ranges in severity from simple to advanced; the most severe form is progressive massive fibrosis (PMF). Advanced CWP is debilitating and often fatal. To prevent CWP, the Coal Mine Health and Safety Act of 1969 established the current federal exposure limit for respirable dust in underground and surface coal mines. The Act also established a surveillance system for assessing prevalence of pneumoconiosis among underground coal miners, but this surveillance does not extend to surface coal miners. With enforcement of the exposure limit, the prevalence of CWP among underground coal miners declined from 11.2% during 1970–1974 to 2.0% during 1995–1999, before increasing unexpectedly in the last decade, particularly in Central Appalachia. Exposure to respirable dust is thought to be less in surface than underground coal miners. Although they comprise 48% of the coal mining workforce, surface coal miners have not been studied since 2002. To assess the prevalence, severity, and geographic distribution of pneumoconiosis among current surface coal miners, CDC obtained chest radiographs of 2,328 miners during 2010–2011 through the Coal Workers' Health Surveillance Program of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). Forty-six (2.0%) of 2,257 miners with >1 year of surface mining experience had CWP, including 37 who had never worked underground. Twelve (0.5%) had PMF, including nine who had never worked underground. A high proportion of the radiographs suggested silicosis, a disease caused by inhalation of crystalline silica. Surface coal mine operators should monitor worker exposures closely to ensure that both respirable dust and silica are below recommended levels to prevent CWP. Clinicians should be aware of the risk for advanced pneumoconiosis among surface coal miners, in addition to underground coal miners, to facilitate prompt disease identification and intervention.

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