Medical Study of Pakistani Coal Miners Reports 71% Have Respiratory Health Problems, 49.5% Have Pneumoconiosis

The Pakistani medical journal Journal of Postgraduate Medical Institute has published a study of Pakistani miners in Cherat, Nowshera District.  The study titled “Prevalence of Pneumoconiosis Among Coal Miners of Cherat, District Nowshera – Pakistan” reports some dramatic data on the incidence of coal workers’ pneumoconiosis (CWP) and related occupational lung diseases among coal miners there.  It appears that these Pakistani miners have pulmonary problems at approximately four times the rate of American miners.

Based on x-rays and pulmonary function tests of 400 active miners, the study concluded:

“From the medical examinations, chest X-rays (CXR) and pulmonary function tests (PFTs); it is concluded that 71% have sign and symptoms of occupational respiratory health problems and 49.50% of the coal miners showed prevalence of pneumoconiosis on CXR and PFTs.”

The report is short and leaves many questions.  For example, the report is not clear about what exactly qualified as a positive chest x-ray or PFT and does not provide a breakdown between simple and complicated CWP.

Based on the study design, I’m not aware of a directly comparable study of U.S. miners.  However, one reference point is the data summarized in the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health’s (NIOSH) excellent 2011 publication Coal Mine Dust Exposures and Occupational Health Outcomes:  A Review of Information Published Since 1995.

That NIOSH report showed that since 1990, the incidence rate of positive chest x-rays for CWP for American miners has been below 10%.  (See p.13 fig. 7).  The NIOSH report also includes a chart from a 2004 study based on British data which concluded that depending on the respirable dust exposure level, even nonsmoking miners had a 10–20% chance of suffering a significant drop in their performance on a PFT (See p. 21 fig. 16 ).

Comparing these number makes it look like these Pakistani coal miners are suffering from occupational lung diseases at approximately four times the rate of American miners.  The duration of the miners’ exposure is also shocking:  46% of the miners had 8 or less years in the mines.

The study does not discuss what regulation, if any, there is of respirable coal mine dust in Pakistan, but the study does say that 64.25% of the miners wore personal protective equipment.

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