University of Illinois-Chicago Researchers Receive Grant to Study How Coal Dust Causes Lung Disease

The project will explore how different combinations of coal dust affect the development of black lung disease, which is causing an epidemic among coal miners across Appalachian states.

As current and former coal miners grapple with a growing black lung epidemic, researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago are preparing to launch a project to learn more about how coal dust exposure causes lung disease.

Some researchers have attributed the higher rates of severe lung disease to greater exposure to silica dust, likely the outcome of having to cut through more rock to reach the limited coal supply in mines, according to a university press release.

While the issue has become more prevalent – a 2018 National Public Radio investigation identified over 1,000 cases of advanced black lung disease in five Appalachian states – there is still little research on how silica dust contributes to the disease and works in conjunction with other dusts to cause more severe outcomes for patients.

Using a $750,000 grant from the Alpha Foundation for the Improvement of Mining Safety and Health, researchers at the UIC Mining Education and Research Center will seek to fill in the knowledge gap by delving into how exactly the dusts affect the development of lung disease.

The group will collect mining-associated dusts from mines in Appalachian states and expose mice to various combinations of the dusts to determine if there are specific mixtures that are particularly damaging to lung health, according to the release.

Dr. Leonard Go, an investigator with the grant who serves as a professor in the UIC School of Public Health, said the researchers hope to create “mine dust risk profiles” for pulmonary disease that can help inform regulatory policies and limit exposure to the most toxic dusts.

“We know that coal and silica dusts increase the risk for development of black lung disease, but we don’t know much about how mixtures behave and what combinations are worse for lung health,” Go said in a statement. “The more we know about the risk profiles of these dusts, both individually and in combination with each other, the better the industry will be able to focus their monitoring and protective efforts.”

The investigators will also examine Mine Safety and Health Administration data on dust in coal mines across the U.S. and employment data to identify any profiles that seem to be linked to higher rates of black lung among workers, according to the release.

Congress has also recently taken up the question of how to deal with the rise in black lung cases. In a House of Representatives hearing last month, David Zatezalo, who oversees the MSHA within the Department of Labor, resisted calls to strengthen rules on workers’ exposure to silica dust. He said the administration expects to see companies’ compliance with current regulations “translate into reduced black lung incidents going forward,” NPR reported.

But Rep. Bobby Scott, a Democrat who chairs the House Committee on Education and Labor, is calling for congressional action in order to prevent more miners from developing severe black lung.

“[The] hearing confirmed that the administration will not make the necessary changes to coal mine health standards," Scott said in a statement. "Given the clear research showing that today's silica standards are not sufficient to protect miners from the recent, unprecedented spike in the most severe forms of black lung disease, Congress has no choice but to take action on behalf of workers and their families.”

Download Center

HTML - No Current Item Deck
  • Safety Management Software - Free Demo

    IndustrySafe Safety Software’s comprehensive suite of modules help organizations to record and manage incidents, inspections, hazards, behavior based safety observations, and much more. Improve safety with an easy to use tool for tracking, notifying and reporting on key safety data.

  • Create Flexible Safety Dashboards

    IndustrySafe’s Dashboard Module allows organizations allows you to easily create and view safety KPIs to help you make informed business decisions. Our best of breed default indicators can also save you valuable time and effort in monitoring safety metrics.

  • Schedule and Record Observations

    IndustrySafe's mobile app allows managers, supervisors, and employees to conduct observations on employees involved in safety critical behavior on the go, with or without an internet connection. IndustrySafe’s pre-built BBS checklists may be used as is, or can be customized to better suit the needs of your organization.

  • The 4 Stages of an Incident Investigation

    So, your workplace has just experienced an incident resulting in the injury or illness of a worker. Now what? OSHA recommends that you conduct investigations of workplace incidents using a four-step system.

  • Why Is Near Miss Reporting Important?

    A near miss is an accident that's waiting to happen. Learn how to investigate these close calls and prevent more serious incidents from occurring in the future.

  • Industry Safe
comments powered by Disqus

Free Whitepaper

Stand Your Ground: A Guide to Slip Resistance in Industrial Safety Footwear

This white paper helps to clarify this complexity, so you can better navigate the standards and better ensure the safety of your employees.

Download Now →

OH&S Digital Edition

  • OHS Magazine Digital Edition - October 2019

    October 2019


      Preparing for Old Man Winter's Arrival
      Staying Safe in the Trenches
      Setting a Higher Standard: The Limitations of Regulatory Limits
      Five Important Things to Know About Arc Flash PPE Programs
    View This Issue