Coal dust harmful?

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Inhaling coal dust can cause black lung disease, which can lead to coughing, shortness of breath, and heart failure. There is no cure, but limiting exposure to coal dust and wearing masks can help. Lawsuits and compensation programs exist for miners disabled by exposure.

Coal dust is harmful: the main dangers are two ailments called coal workers’ pneumoconiosis (CWP) and progressive massive fibrosis (PMF). Both disorders are also commonly called black lung disease because of the way they make a person’s lungs look. These ailments can occur when people who work in coal mines inhale too much coal dust over time and it builds up in their lungs. Eventually, the accumulation of coal dust can cause tissue changes in the lungs and lead to ailments much like emphysema and fibrosis.

Symptoms of black lung disease can take years to appear. Eventually, coal workers may start to develop a cough that won’t go away. Sometimes this cough can be quite severe and individuals often pass out a lot of mucus. Over time, they may also experience shortness of breath and feel as if their airways are blocked in some way. People who also smoke may develop more severe symptoms, and coal workers with a smoking habit have a higher chance of developing chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

In the CWP form, black lung disease is usually not that dangerous. People can often recover without major complications, and sometimes they may not even realize they have a problem because the symptoms are so mild. As it progresses to PMF, things get more serious and it can contribute to some serious complications. There is some evidence for a higher incidence of lung cancer along with a higher risk of respiratory failure. It can also put a strain on a person’s heart and lead to eventual heart failure.

Doctors have not yet discovered a way to cure black lung disease. The most common course of action is to help people deal with symptoms. The most important recommendation is to limit exposure to coal dust. This may involve wearing a surgical mask of some sort while working in a mine or possibly changing jobs.

In the United States, there have been lawsuits and laws passed regarding the level of coal dust in mining environments. Some states have eventually authorized compensation programs for miners disabled by exposure to coal dust. The Federal Coal Mine and Safety Act was passed in 1969 and set new standards for safety in the coal industry and established federal compensation, which was similar to previous state compensation plans. Safety has been improved in the coal industry, but many former miners still suffer from black lung.

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