Coal miners in the United States are at 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 American population, according to new research from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.
NIOSH and University of Illinois-Chicago researchers published what they say is the largest existing study of causes of death in American coal miners, and the results show not only that coal miners are more likely to die from lung disease than other workers, but that today’s coal miners are actually facing greater risk of mortality than their predecessors.
Central Appalachian miners born in 1940 or later were eight times more likely to die from nonmalignant respiratory diseases such as black lung or COPD than members of the general U.S. population, according to the study, the results of which were published Monday on the NIOSH Science Blog.
The eightfold increase, the authors say, was the highest odds for death attributed to non-cancerous respiratory diseases in all age groups examined.
Non-malignant respiratory diseases include chronic lower respiratory diseases attributable to inhalation of coal dust.
In addition to non-malignant lung diseases, the researchers said miners are also exposed to carcinogens in their work environment, such as diesel exhaust, asbestos and radon, which can lead to cancer development.
The study period looked at mortality between 1979 and 2017.
Mortality was highest among those born more recently, the study found, perhaps due to increased rates of the severe lung disease pneumoconiosis among younger miners.