Postexposure progression of pneumoconiosis among former Appalachian coal miners
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Postexposure progression of pneumoconiosis among former Appalachian coal miners

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  • English

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    • Alternative Title:
      Am J Ind Med
    • Description:

      The prevalence of pneumoconiosis among working United States underground coal miners has been increasing for the past two decades, with the highest rates of disease observed among miners in the central Appalachian states of Kentucky, Virginia, and West Virginia. Surveillance for this disease in the United States focuses on working coal miners, who continue to be occupationally exposed to dust. This study examines the radiographic evidence for postexposure progression of pneumoconiosis in a population of former coal miners no longer occupationally exposed to coal mine dust who were seen at a community radiology clinic in eastern Kentucky.


      Data were obtained and analyzed from clinical records of former coal miners who had a clinic encounter during January 1, 2017–August 1, 2019, a recorded final year of employment, and ≥2 postemployment digital chest radiographs. Radiographs were classified according to the International Labour Office guidelines by at least two B Readers. A final summary pneumoconiosis severity score (range, 0–13), accounting for both small and large opacities, was assigned to each chest radiograph. Progression was defined as an increase in severity score between a miner’s radiographs over time.


      Data for 130 former coal miners were analyzed. All miners were male and most (n = 114, 88%) had worked primarily in Kentucky. Information on race/ethnicity was not available. The most common job types were roof bolters (n = 51, 39%) and continuous miner operators (n = 46, 35%). Forty-one (31.5%) miners had evidence of radiographic disease progression after leaving the workforce, with a median of 3.6 years between first and latest postretirement radiograph. A total of 80 (62%) miners had evidence of pneumoconiosis on their latest radiograph, and two-thirds (n = 53) of these were classified as progressive massive fibrosis (PMF), the most severe form of the disease.


      Postexposure progression can occur in former coal miners, emphasizing the potential benefits of continued radiographic follow-up postemployment. In addition to participating in disease screening throughout their careers to detect pneumoconiosis early and facilitate intervention, radiographic follow-up of former coal miners can identify new or progressive radiographic findings even after workplace exposure to respirable coal mine dust ends. Identification of progressive pneumoconiosis in former miners has potential implications for clinical management and eligibility for disability compensation.

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