Black Lung Disease, also known as Coal workers' pneumoconiosis, is a disease caused by long exposure to coal dust. This health condition is frequent in coal miners and others who work with the coal. Long term exposure to coil dust is similar to long term effects of tobacco as it gradually builds up in the lungs and causes serious health problems such as inflammation, fibrosis, and eventually, necrosis.
Each day in the United States, approximately 42,000 people works underground in coal mines. It is estimated that as much as 10,000 of coal miners have died from Black Lung Disease in past decade. But, what is the most warning is a Federal statistics that reveals Black lung disease rates among U.S. coal miners have doubled in the last decade.
Causes of Black Lung Disease
As already mentioned, Black Lung Disease develops from a long term exposure to coal dust. While working in the coal mine, workers are inhaling and accumulating coal dust in their lungs. The disease is similar to silicosis from inhaling silica dust, but what makes inhaling coal dust even worse is that it can’t be processed or removed by the body. Once inhaled, coal dust always stays in one’s lungs, gradually building up in a form of hazardous coal macule, making the lungs less efficient in supplying oxygen to the blood. A coal macule is formed of coal dust and macrophages and, as a disease progresses, macule develop into coal nodule, which is an abnormality of the lung tissue.
Symptoms of Black Lung Disease
For many of the sufferers, there are no obvious symptoms of the disease, in the early stages. The most prominent symptoms are cough and sprutum, resulting from inhalation of coal dust. When the disease starts to develop, shortness of the breath becomes primary symptom. Shortness of the breath gets worse as a disease progresses. In some severe cases, patients develop cor pulmonale, an enlargement and strain of the right side of the heart caused by chronic lung disease. Sometimes, the patient may develop emphysema, the tiny air sacs in the lungs may become injured, resulting shortness of breath, respiratory and heart failure.
Treatment and prevention
There is no cure for Black Lung Disease. Available treatments are aimed at the symptoms and complications. The only way to prevent Black Lung Disease is to avoid long term exposure to coal dust.
In 1969 the U.S. Congress ordered black lung to be eradicated from the coal industry. Coal miners should always wear proper breathing filters and face masks, coal dust should be eliminated from the work environment and each worker should get yearly chest radiographs to increase the chances of early detection of the disease.