Continued increase in prevalence of r-type opacities among underground coal miners in the USA
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Continued increase in prevalence of r-type opacities among underground coal miners in the USA

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  • English

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    • Alternative Title:
      Occup Environ Med
    • Description:

      Respirable crystalline silica exposure has been implicated in the resurgence of coal workers’ pneumoconiosis (CWP) in the USA. A 2010 report found an increasing prevalence of r-type opacities, which are associated with silicosis lung pathology, on the radiographs of working underground coal miners in central Appalachia. This analysis updates that report by assessing the prevalence of r-type opacities during 2010–2018 compared with earlier decades.


      Data from the Coal Workers’ health Surveillance Program were used to calculate the prevalence of r-type opacities on radiographs of working underground coal miners. The data were restricted to radiographs taken during 1 January 1980 to 15 September 2018. The presence of r-type opacities was defined as an r-type classification for either the primary or secondary shape/size of small opacities. Prevalence ratios for r-type opacities were calculated using log binomial regression.


      Radiograph classifications for 106 506 miners were included in analysis. For the USA overall, the prevalence of r-type opacities among miners with radiographs taken during 2010–2018 compared with 1980–1989 has increased (PR 2.4; 95% CI 1.9 to 3.0). For central Appalachia, the proportion of r-type opacities observed increased when comparing 1980–1989 to 2010–2018 (PR 6.0; 95% CI 4.6 to 7.9).


      The prevalence of r-type opacities on the radiographs of Appalachian underground coal miners continues to increase, implicating exposure to crystalline silica in respirable coal mine dust. The current findings underscore the importance of monitoring and controlling exposure to silica in coal mines.

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