Occupational Severe Lung Disease
A number of workers might be surprised to find themselves at risk of lung disease and lung injury while on the job. It’s well-established that certain industries carry much more danger to workers than others. In fact, just doing your job in some occupations over a couple of decades can lead to chronic illness, disability, or even death.
But that’s only part of the story. One-time events involving hazardous materials and corrosive chemicals also can threaten your well-being by creating what are known as acute inhalation injuries. Severe, irreversible lung damage is often the result of one-time events.
Acute Inhalation Injuries
Industrial accidents can put workers at serious risk of acute inhalation lung and bronchial injuries. One single exposure can cause irreversible damage to lung functioning, senses of taste and smell, eye injuries, and even death. Gases and fumes responsible for severe lung injury that are often released during industrial accidents are as follows:
- Soluble gases and fumes such as chlorine, ammonia, hydrofluoric acid, and other concentrated acids. These substances easily dissolve in the body’s natural moisture, creating severe burning that can damage lungs, bronchial tubes, the larynx, eyes, nose, and throat. Anyone who works with these types of chemicals or in an industrial setting is potentially at risk.
- Insoluble or poorly-soluble gases such as nitrogen dioxide and other oxides, hydrogen sulfide, and phosgene. These gases have a delayed effect extending over several hours, as opposed to the immediate effects that occur with soluble gases. One notable problem, SFD (silo-fillers’ disease) affects those who fill or spend time in silos, where nitrogen dioxide can build to lethal levels.
- Asphyxiates, which suffocate the worker. While some asphyxiates, such as hydrogen sulfide, can also cause lung irritation and injury, their primary harm is in displacing oxygen in the body. Other asphyxiates include carbon monoxide, hydrogen cyanide, helium, argon, methane, and ethane.
This list of hazardous gases is by no means exhaustive. If you work around or with petrochemicals, petroleum hydrocarbons, formaldehyde, acetates, and other industrial chemicals or concentrated acids not named, you could be at risk of an acute exposure that would harm your lungs and airways.
Lung Disease Due to Chronic Exposure
Repeated exposure to certain airborne materials can, over time, cause chronic illness that can take away your ability to work and hasten an early death. One of the most well-known of this type of chronic illness is black lung disease, which is found in coal miners. But miners are far from the only workers at risk of an occupational lung disease. For example, workers in textile factories, especially those working with unprocessed cotton, can develop byssinosis, or brown lung disease. Even a lifetime spent working in an automotive garage constantly inhaling exhaust fumes, or working as a commercial painter, can sometimes produce chronic lung diseases.
Some of the more common dusts, metals, and chemicals and their resultant chronic lung damage, other than black lung and brown lung, are:
- Asbestosis, resulting from the prolonged inhalation of microscopic asbestos fibers. While asbestos has not been legally used since the 1970s, if you work with structures built before that time, you could be exposed. Some pre-’70s products that included asbestos include many kinds of insulation, floor tiles, adhesives, sprayed soundproofing, “popcorn” ceilings, and roofing and siding shingles.
- Mesothelioma, a lung cancer that also results from prolonged exposure to asbestos fibers.
- Silicosis, caused by inhalation of crystalline silica. Silica dust is found in mines, foundries, various factories, and in home construction. Silica dust scars the lungs and increases the danger of other diseases, such as tuberculosis.
- Chronic beryllium disease, also known as berylliosis. Beryllium is a metal used in countless components, items, and processes. This metal, along with a few others, can produce dust that creates lung damage and chronic disease.
- “Popcorn lung,” or Bronchiolitis obliterans, caused by exposure to a number of industrial inhalants. It appears especially in those who work around flavorings, such as the artificial butter flavoring, made from a diacetyl substance, used in microwave popcorn.
- Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Plants that manufacture glyphosate (an active component of the weed-killer Roundup), or environments that spray glyphosate, put workers at risk of this variety of cancer.
- Hypersensitivity pneumonitis. The disease encompasses a number of interstitial lung diseases. Such diseases arise from an immune system response to the inhalation of molds, dusts, and diacetyl substances.
- Lead exposure. While lead exposure does not specifically affect the lungs, it accumulates in the body as a deadly poison that can shorten life. Lead dust, unfortunately, is a side effect of many construction industries, including the removal of lead paint.
- Exposure to trichloroethylene (TCE), which is implicated in bringing about kidney cancer.
Again, the list above is not exhaustive. Should you have a lung disorder that you suspect is related to your job, you may want to seek legal counsel.
Which Workers are at Risk?
Industries and settings where a worker runs the risk of either acute or chronic lung damage from exposure to dangerous gases, acids, fumes, and organic and inorganic dusts include:
- Chemical and petrochemical plants
- Shipyards and shipbuilding industries
- Railroads and related industries
- Automotive plants and related industries
- Quarries and mines
- Lumber processing industries
- Construction industries of many kinds
- Textile factories
- “Big Ag” farms and farming
Workplace lung disease and damage can be the result of an employer’s neglect to provide critical safety devices for workers. But it is a sad fact that chronic damage often takes decades to appear, so pinpointing the sources of the disease can require expert assistance.
Employers are required to provide essential safety equipment and safe work environments. When they do not, sometimes the legal cause is considered negligence, which is actionable under the law. If you are suffering from any of the conditions mentioned in this article, and you believe it was caused by work conditions, you may want to seek legal advice.
Injured on the Job? Call A Local Baltimore Work Injury Lawyer.
Many situations can place workers at risk, including exposure to dangerous substances over an average workday. This includes the inhalation of toxic substances like beryllium, benzene, formaldehyde, asbestos, coal dust, silica dust, glyphosate, and other harmful chemicals. Steve Heisler has devoted 25 years to helping injured people and their families pursue compensation from those who caused them to be injured. Steve approaches each case with compassion and thorough investigation, leaving no stone unturned in his goal of obtaining justice for persons harmed by the actions or inactions of negligent employers, manufacturers and sub-contractors. If you or your loved one has been injured or killed in a work-related accident anywhere in Maryland, call the Baltimore injury lawyers of the Law Offices of Steven H. Heisler today at (410) 625-4878, or use our online contact form. The initial consultation is always free.