B-Read Bonanza

Image Source: NPR In this historical image, a doctor reviews an X-ray of a patient with black lung disease. Federal researchers say they’ve now identified the largest cluster ever recorded of the most advanced stage of the disease.

Wheezing, gasping for air, Inflammation, fibrosis and necrosis. These are words that nobody wants to say when they refer to their body. When coal dust is inhaled, and continues to build up in the lungs without the body being able to remove it can lead to these symptoms, which are symptoms of Black Lung Disease. People literally suffocate because they can’t get enough air.

A new study recently uncovers a startling number of black lung cases in Coal Miners. Black Lung or Black Lung Disease is also knows as Coal workers’ pneumoconiosis (CWP). Most commonly found in coal miners, this disease is caused from prolonged exposure to coal dust. CWP is similar to both silicosis (Read more about Silica in our post here) caused from inhaling silica dust and to the long-term effects of tobacco smoking.

The largest cluster of advanced black lung disease has recently been reported. NIOSH confirms 416 cases, in three clinics in central Appalachia from 2013 – 2017, of complicated black lung or progressive massive fibrosis. These conditions have gone from being nearly eradicated in the mid-199os to the highest concentration of cases that have ever been seen.

The Coal Workers’ Health Surveillance Program which is administered by NIOSH, has been monitoring the health of coal miners since 1970, offering free chest radiographs and examinations. In 2014 an increase in black lung disease was reported by the program. This increase demanded research into determining the spike in cases. The results of this were detailed in a letter published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

“This is the largest cluster of progressive massive fibrosis ever reported in the scientific literature,” Scott Laney, a NIOSH epidemiologist involved in the research as told to NPR.

As coal miners cut into coal seams, particles of dust enter the air and can enter the miners lungs becoming trapped.

There is a huge concern for the retired coal miners as well as the 50,000 coal miners still working today. There are people working in the mines at this very minute that have black lung and are unaware of it.  These particles are coal and silica, a potential lung irritant. Silica as described, is the dust that is created by cutting, grinding, drilling or otherwise disturbing materials can contain crystalline silica particles. These dust particles are very small. You cannot see them. This respirable silica dust causes lung disease and lung cancer. It only takes a very small amount of airborne silica dust to create a health hazard.

Miners avoided the NIOSH testing, in the past because they worry it could cost them their jobs. The new federal regulations that were fully implemented in 2016 are supposed to limit the exposure to dangerous levels of silica dust and coal and require testing.  With an increase in testing, the more cases are being diagnosed. PMF and black lung can take a decade to develop. It is more important than ever to use a NIOSH certified B-reader to aid in diagnosis.

NIOSH certified B-readers are an indispensable tool when it comes to monitoring the amount of dust exposure and lung health of miners. Trained readers are able to assess a worker’s chest radiograph for the presence and severity of abnormalities as a result of dust inhalation.

Advantages to using modern digital imaging systems for monitoring miners’ lung health according to the CDC, including:

  • More consistent image quality
  • Faster results
  • Increased ability to share images with multiple readers
  • Simplified storage of images
  • Reduced risk for technicians and the environment due to the elimination of chemicals for developing film

A knowledgeable team of NIOSH certified “B” Readers are standing by at Premier to provide you expert reviews of chest radiographs for the presence of occupational lung disease. Call us today to see how we can help!

You can read more about this in the NIOSH report