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Coal miners at greater mortality risk from lung disease than predecessors: Study

coal miners

Coal miners in the United States are at an increased risk of dying from lung diseases such as cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and death rates are higher for these workers than they are among the general U.S. population, according to new research from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.  

NIOSH researchers and researchers from the University of Illinois-Chicago published what they say is the largest existing study on causes of mortality in U.S. coal miners, and the results show not only that coal miners are more likely to die from diseases of the lung than other workers, but that today’s coal miners actually face greater mortality risk than their predecessors.

Central Appalachian miners born in 1940 or later were eight times more likely to die from nonmalignant respiratory diseases like black lung or COPD than members of the general U.S. population, according to the study, whose results were published Monday on the NIOSH science blog.

The eightfold increase, the authors say, was the highest odds of death attributed to non-cancerous respiratory illnesses in all age groups examined.

Nonmalignant respiratory diseases include chronic lower respiratory diseases that can be attributable to the inhalation of coal dust.

In addition to nonmalignant lung diseases, the researchers said miners are also exposed to carcinogens in their work environment, such as diesel exhaust, asbestos and radon, which could lead to cancer development.  

The study period looked at mortality rates between 1979 and 2017.

Mortality was the highest in those born more recently, the study found, perhaps due to increased rates of the severe lung disease pneumoconiosis among younger miners.