Review of Silicosis Deaths Points to Continued Overexposures

NIOSH's analysis of silicosis mortality in the United States from 1968 through 2005 shows a welcome 90 percent plunge during that period in years of potential life lost to the preventable disease. The proportion ascribed to silicosis decedents ages 15-44 rose, however, according to a summary of the data published in CDC's latest Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR, July 18, 2008). The authors say hazard surveillance, workplace-specific interventions, and more silicosis prevention and elimination efforts are needed, especially among young adults who may be exposed to respirable crystalline silica.

Such exposures can result in silicosis and other lung diseases. Chronic silicosis results from exposure to relatively low concentrations of respirable crystalline silica for more than 10 years, but deaths in young adults involve accelerated silicosis from more recent and intense exposures, according to the report by two researchers from NIOSH's Division of Respiratory Disease Studies.

The report said an estimated 3,600 to 7,300 new silicosis cases still occur annually. Deaths reported from Pennsylvania (349), Ohio (197), and Texas (94) accounted for a combined 32 percent of all deaths during 1968-2005. Young silicosis deaths from eight states -- Texas (19), Ohio (15), California (11), Pennsylvania (11), Indiana (10), Louisiana (10), Michigan (9), and Alabama (8) -- accounted for 52.5 percent of all young deaths during the period. Industry or occupation information was available for 148 of 374 decedents ages 15-64; the leading industries represented in this group were construction, iron and steel foundries, and blast furnaces, steelworks, rolling and finishing mills.

The study included decedents for whom the International Classification of Diseases code for silicosis was listed as the underlying cause of death. The authors said 2005 was the latest year for which data was avilable.

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