Workplace dust, fumes linked to lung disease for more than 1 in 10 people

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More than 1 in 10 people suffering from a range of lung diseases may be sick because of inhaling vapours, gas, dust or fumes at work. This is according to a joint American Thoracic Society and the European Respiratory Society statement published in the ATS’s American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine.

Thirteen clinical and research experts from the two respiratory societies examined scores of studies of the connections between occupational hazards and lung disease. The studies were conducted around the world over more than two decades.

The authors included a range of respiratory conditions, ranging from asthma and COPD to scarring fibrosis and selected infections. Cancer of the lung and pleura were not included in the study because the occupational burden for these conditions has already been reported. They also did not include in their burden estimate asbestosis, silicosis and coal worker’s pneumoconiosis (black lung) because these diseases are entirely work-related.

“The role of occupational factors in most lung disease is under-recognised,” said Paul D. Blanc, MD, MSPH, chief of the Division of Occupational and Environmental Medicine at the University of California San Francisco, who along with Carrie A. Redlich, MD, MPH, director of the Occupational and Environmental Medicine Program at Yale University, led the group effort.

“Failure to appreciate the importance of work-related factors in such conditions impedes diagnosis, treatment and most importantly of all, prevention of further disease.”

The authors of “The Occupational Burden of Nonmalignant Respiratory Diseases: An Official American Thoracic Society and European Respiratory Society Statement estimated the occupational burden of these diseases:

  • Asthma (16 percent)
  • Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (14 percent)
  • Chronic Bronchitis (13 percent)
  • Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis (26 percent)
  • Hypersensitivity Pneumonitis (19 percent)
  • Sarcoidosis and other granulomatous diseases (30 percent)
  • Pulmonary alveolar proteinosis (29 percent)
  • Community-acquired Pneumonia (in working-age adults, 10 percent)
  • Tuberculosis (in silica dust-exposed workers, 2 percent)

The authors hope that the statement will cause clinicians to consider not just the respiratory condition but also the patent’s occupation and “will move policymakers to take seriously the prevention of such diseases among working women and men around the globe.”

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