Lung diseases caused due to mining related activities reduced to a substantial level post the passage and enforcement of critical mine health and safety legislation in the late 1960s; however, there came a time when the positive impacts of the legislation started waning in the mid-1990s when there was a substantial increase in the number of documented lung diseases cases among coal workers.
University of Illinois at Chicago School of Public Health received funding to carry out a study to investigate the reason behind this jump especially in the number of documented cases of progressive massive fibrosis and rapidly progressive pneumoconiosis.
Progressive massive fibrosis, the most severe form of coal workers’ pneumoconiosis, occurs when masses of fibrotic tissue form in the lungs in response to coal dust or other mineral dusts. Rapidly progressive pneumoconiosis, also known as black lung disease, is caused by the accumulation of coal dust in the lungs. Both can cause severe respiratory distress, and many sufferers are placed on oxygen for the rest of their lives. Some patients may even require lung transplants.
According to researchers that most research on the recent increase in progressive massive fibrosis and rapidly progressive pneumoconiosis has focused on X-ray findings, but there is little in the scientific literature that identifies particular mineral dusts or characterizes their toxic effects on the lungs.
Few existing studies take into account patients’ medical history, including whether a patient is also a smoker, or which mines they worked in, the types of minerals found in the mines and the amount of time the workers spent working in those mines.
The new study will look at and examine biopsy, explant or autopsy lung tissue specimens from miners with progressive massive fibrosis and rapidly progressive pneumoconiosis. While the samples will come from all over the U.S., the majority are from miners who worked in central Appalachia and were collected within the last 10 years. The team hopes to collect medical records and occupational and health history to go with at least 100 tissue samples.
The researchers will compare these lung tissue samples with much older samples from the National Coal Workers’ Autopsy Study made available through the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. The majority of these samples were taken from coal miners after their deaths between 1970 and 1996.
The researchers will also collect dust samples from mines that are similar to the ones worked in by the miners whose tissue samples are being analyzed. The aim is to gather as much information about the type and size of particulates that make up the dust in these mines.