Black Lung Disease
What is Black Lung Disease?
A chronic occupational lung disease contracted by the prolonged breathing of coal mine dust. The silica and carbon in the coal dust cause black lung disease. About one of every 20 miners studied in the US has X-ray evidence of black lung disease, a form of pneumoconiosis.
In its early stages, called simple pneumoconiosis, the disease does not prevent the miner from working or carrying on most normal activities. In some miners, the disease never becomes more severe. In other miners, the disease progresses from simple to complicated pneumoconiosis, a condition also called progressive massive fibrosis. Pneumoconiosis is not reversible. There is no specific treatment.
Black lung disease has gone by many names, including anthracosis, black lung, black spittle, coal worker's pneumoconiosis, miner's asthma, and silicosis.
The term miner's asthma was first used in 1822. The cause of the spitting, coughing, and breathlessness in coal miners was unknown, so doctors used the word asthma to identify the condition. Later, silicosis became known as the disease producing breathlessness in miners who had worked where silica was thought to be in the coal mine dust.
While black spittle and black pigmentation of the lung were observed in European coal miners during the 17th and 18th centuries, it was not until 1831 that the term black lung was introduced; it was used to describe the lungs of a Scottish coal miner. From then until the end of the nineteenth century, coal mine dust was generally acknowledged in Europe to be the cause of the black lungs and the shortness of breath occurring among coal miners. In 1880 emile Zola, in his famous novel about French coal miners, Germinal, wrote eloquently about the devastating effect of black lung.
Coal workers' pneumoconiosis was the term British investigators used for the first time in 1942 to identify a type of dust disease observed in coal miners. The following year this disease, as distinct from, and in addition to, classical silicosis, became compensable in the United Kingdom. Like all occupational diseases, black lung is man-made and can be prevented.
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