In the United States, lung diseases are documented as the most common workplace-associated illnesses. The inhalation of hazardous chemicals and particles present in dust can become potentially life-threatening. Repeated exposure to irritants in the air can cause serious damage to an individual’s lungs, and some work environments expose employees to airborne particles at disproportionally higher rates. Lung diseases are preventable if employers provide proper safety equipment and training.
The type of lung disease and the resulting symptoms are dependent upon the type of inhalant, the rate of exposure, and whether the inhalant is organic or inorganic. Inorganic inhalants are those which do not contain carbon, such as carbon dioxide, and organic inhalants are those which do, such as mineral dusts.
- Asbestosis is an inorganic dust disease caused by the inhalation of asbestos fibers. Given that asbestos is present in many older buildings, construction workers are especially vulnerable to exposure.
- Silicosis can occur when workers are exposed to crystalline silica, found in dust in mines, stone, glass, and clay manufacturing operations. Victims experience lung scarring and may be more susceptible to diseases like tuberculosis.
- Asthma is the most common occupational lung disease, and is reversible if treatment is sought early on. Individuals who work in occupations that expose them to gases, vapors, and fumes are especially susceptible. This includes individuals in the manufacturing, refining, or processing industries, farming, or textile/cotton industries.
- Beryllium disease results from the inhalation to Beryllium: a light, non-magnetic metal widely used in manufacturing operations. Beryllium is present in cars, computers, and electrical equipment.
- Hypersensitivity pneumonitis is an organic lung disease caused by the inhalation of fungus spores. Workers in farming and livestock industries may inhale organic dusts such as moldy hay or bird dropping particles which contain fungus spores. Victims will breathe abnormally and experience inflamed air sacks in the lungs.