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What lung diseases are caused by work?

Injury as the result of breathing in hazardous dust or toxic materials is unfortunately a fact of life for many American workers in certain industries. Mining, manufacturing and transformative processes all see their share of respiratory conditions and lung diseases related to the on the job actions of employees. Agriculture and the construction industry are also implicated in this class of health concerns.

Incidence rates for dust diseases, State
Number of cases of dust diseases of the lungs in private industry by State, 20011.
Incidence rates for dust diseases, State
Incidence rates for dust diseases of the lungs in private industry by State, 20012.
Number of respiratory conditions due to toxic agents
Number of respiratory conditions due to toxic agents in private industry by State, 20013.
Incidence rates for respiratory conditions
Incidence rates for respiratory conditions due to toxic agents in private industry by State, 20014.

These charts from NIOSH show that the cases of lung disease related to occupational exposure to toxic agents or dust are concentrated in areas where mining and agriculture have a strong presence. There are also indications that those involved in the petrochemical industry have a strong predisposition to falling ill as a result of toxic exposure.

Distribution and number of WRA cases
Distribution and number of WRA cases for all four SENSOR reporting States (California, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey) by occupation, 1993-19995.

Work-related asthma is a frequently cited complain on the part of employees exposed to hazardous airborne materials. Asthma describes the collection of symptoms which occur when a person’s airways become inflamed, which can make it difficult and sometimes impossible to breath. Asthma can be both chronic and acute, with severe attacks incapacitating or even killing sufferers.

A wide variety of different chemicals and materials suspended in the air can lead to the development of asthma.

Distribution of agent categories
Distribution of agent categories most frequently associated with WRA cases for all four SENSOR reporting States (California, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey), 1993-19996.
PMRs and 95% confidence intervals for malignant mesothelioma
PMRs and 95% confidence intervals for malignant mesothelioma in U.S. residents aged 15 or older by industry and occupation, 19997.
Number of deaths of U.S. residents aged 15 or older with asbestosis
Number of deaths of U.S. residents aged 15 or older with asbestosis recorded as an underlying or contributing cause on the death certificate, 1968-19998.

Asbestos, which was mined extensively in the 20th century and used as an insulator and fire-proofing material, turned out to be one of the most hazardous substances known to man. Tiny airborne particles of asbestos become embedded in the lungs when inhaled, where they can cause a type of cancer called mesothelioma9 and asbestosis, a condition wherein the lung tissue hardens and becomes scarred10. Both of these diseases can lead to death, and they are frequently found amongst not only those who worked in asbestos mines, but also contractors and professionals who installed asbestos during building construction.

PMRs and 95% confidence intervals for asbestosis PMRs and 95% confidence intervals for byssinosis
PMRs and 95% confidence intervals for byssinosis and CWP in U.S. residents aged 15 or older by industry and occupation, adjusted for age, race, and sex, 1990-199912 13.
Number of deaths of U.S. residents aged 15 or older
Number of deaths of U.S. residents aged 15 or older with pneumoconiosis recorded as an underlying or contributing cause on the death certificate, 1968-199914.

There are of course several other causes of pneumoconiosis, the general term for diseases caused by the inhalation of toxic dust or other agents. Coal worker’s pneumoconiosis or black lung is an inflammation of the lung tissue caused by constant exposure to dust in coal mines. Byssinosis is the name for the disease caused by the bacteria living in the cotton dust that farm and textile workers are exposed to. This is not to be confused with tuberculosis, which is another type of lung infection that also results from the colonization of lung tissue by a bacteria, and which is a contagious disease.

The charts above show how in general, advances in safety and better working conditions for employees have lowered the rate at which these dust diseases affect Americans. However, this is matched by a growing number of asbestos-related illnesses, stemming not only from the gradual penetration of asbestos into construction but also the increased exposure many construction workers face when renovating older structures which make extensive used of the deadly material.

1NIOSH 2004. Worker Health Chartbook 2004, NIOSH Publication No. 2004-146. Retrieved October 27, 2008 from http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/docs/2004-146/detail/imagedetail.asp@imgid239.htm
2NIOSH 2004. Worker Health Chartbook 2004, NIOSH Publication No. 2004-146. Retrieved October 27, 2008 from http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/docs/2004-146/detail/imagedetail.asp@imgid240.htm
3NIOSH 2004. Worker Health Chartbook 2004, NIOSH Publication No. 2004-146. Retrieved October 27, 2008 from http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/docs/2004-146/detail/imagedetail.asp@imgid243.htm
4NIOSH 2004. Worker Health Chartbook 2004, NIOSH Publication No. 2004-146. Retrieved October 27, 2008 from http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/docs/2004-146/detail/imagedetail.asp@imgid244.htm
5NIOSH 2004. Worker Health Chartbook 2004, NIOSH Publication No. 2004-146. Retrieved October 27, 2008 from http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/docs/2004-146/detail/imagedetail.asp@imgid204.htm
6NIOSH 2004. Worker Health Chartbook 2004, NIOSH Publication No. 2004-146. Retrieved October 27, 2008 from http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/docs/2004-146/detail/imagedetail.asp@imgid206.htm
7NIOSH 2004. Worker Health Chartbook 2004, NIOSH Publication No. 2004-146. Retrieved October 27, 2008 from http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/docs/2004-146/detail/imagedetail.asp@imgid213.htm
8NIOSH 2004. Worker Health Chartbook 2004, NIOSH Publication No. 2004-146. Retrieved October 27, 2008 from http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/docs/2004-146/detail/imagedetail.asp@imgid217.htm
9Anapol Schwartz, n.d.. Asbestos Exposure Lawyers. Retrieved October 27, 2008 from http://www.anapolschwartz.com/practices/asbestos.shtml
10Anapol Schwartz, n.d.. Asbestos kills. Retrieved October 27, 2008 from http://www.anapolschwartz.com/practices/asbestos
11NIOSH 2004. Worker Health Chartbook 2004, NIOSH Publication No. 2004-146. Retrieved October 27, 2008 from http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/docs/2004-146/detail/imagedetail.asp@imgid219.htm
12NIOSH 2004. Worker Health Chartbook 2004, NIOSH Publication No. 2004-146. Retrieved October 27, 2008 from http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/docs/2004-146/detail/imagedetail.asp@imgid222.htm
13NIOSH 2004. Worker Health Chartbook 2004, NIOSH Publication No. 2004-146. Retrieved October 27, 2008 from http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/docs/2004-146/detail/imagedetail.asp@imgid227.htm
14NIOSH 2004. Worker Health Chartbook 2004, NIOSH Publication No. 2004-146. Retrieved October 27, 2008 from http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/docs/2004-146/detail/imagedetail.asp@imgid214.htm

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