Black Lung Disease- THE HEALTH EFFECTS OF BREATHING COAL DUST LADEN AIR’


My town Vasco-da-Gama is being ravaged by coal dust. The Indian port town of Goa  is a major ore and coal handling hub. The laid back citizenry is in a grip of respiratory disorders which is now trending towards an endemic proportion and this has led to frantic efforts by its people to right every wrong.  A wrong, in which the culpability of the government and its statutory bodies responsible to monitor and ensure compliance is beyond doubt.
This post  hopes to educate and spread awareness on the fate that stares at the people of this town especially the children.  Some of the text reproduced here is taken from a study paper in Australia titled ‘THE HEALTH EFFECTS OF BREATHING THE AIR NEAR COAL MINES’.

Every occupation bears the risk of some disorder of the other which is commonly termed as occupational hazard.  Those who work in salt pans have their share of disorder, and so do those working in iron, lead, and even gold mines.  The coal mine worker is subjected to the risk of ‘Black Lung Disease’ also called Anthracosis , Miner’s Asthma, Black Spittle, Silicosis or Pneumoconiosis.  It is a chronic occupational lung disease contracted by the prolonged breathing of coal mine dust. The silica and carbon in the coal dust cause black lung disease. About one of every 20 miners studied in the US has X-ray evidence of black lung disease, a form of pneumoconiosis. In its early stages, called simple pneumoconiosis, the disease does not prevent the miner from working or carrying on most normal activities. In some miners, the disease never becomes more severe. In other miners, the disease progresses from simple to complicated pneumoconiosis, a condition also called progressive massive fibrosis. Conventional medicine ‘Allopathic’ says that Pneumoconiosis is not reversible. There is no specific treatment.   With the alarming rise in coal dust in Vasco, its people are subject to the same risk as the miner.

Medicinal system like homoeopathy hold promise in stemming the progress of the disease or even reversing it but it remains a challenge as long as the maintaining cause ‘Polluted Air’ is not removed.  This implies that either those affected be moved to a cleaner environment or the violator to takes corrective measures to eliminate the cause.

Another concomitant hazard that accompanies the ‘Polluted Air’ is the ‘Polluted Water’ from the port that is washed into the sea and backwaters.  Oysters, Mussels, Scavengers like Crabs and Prawns which feed on the life in the brackish waters ingest the toxic organic compounds and heavy metals.  These sea life form the everyday diet of the local population of this town.

Air pollution takes different forms. We can't see most of the things floating around in the air, but these things, called particulate matter (PM), can damage our health. 

  • PM10 particles measure between 2.5 and 10 micrometers (from 25 to 100 times thinner than a human hair). These coarse particles cause less severe health effects. They are often visible, and are caused by smoke, dirt and dust from factories, farming, roads and mining.
  • Fine particles are up to 2.5 micrometers in size (100+ times thinner than a human hair). These particles are not visible, and are more dangerous to human health as they can contain toxic organic compounds and heavy metals. It is these finer particles that lodge deep in the lungs, and are the more dangerous particles resulting from open-cut coal mining.
Particulates can also contain arsenic and dioxins, which produce oxidative radicals. In addition, machines using diesel fuel emit many toxic chemicals, including nitrogen dioxide, sulphur dioxide and formaldehyde, and the low-grade diesel used on mine sites contains far more sulphur than higher-grade diesel. The solvents in low-grade diesel can cause brain damage and any heavy metals or other contaminants cause cancers.

EFFECTS ON THE HEALTH OF INFANTS
These studies show that there is a relationship between infant deaths from respiratory causes and long-term exposure to fine particulate matter. In addition, babies born to mothers exposed to air pollution are more likely to have low birth weight and to be born prematurely, and these babies are more likely to have respiratory problems.
Some studies have shown that Sudden Infant Death Syndrome is associated with the presence of nitrogen dioxide and sulphur dioxide. These chemicals, together with formaldehyde, are emitted by machines using diesel fuel. Formaldehyde has caused tumours in laboratory rats. Diesel emissions are carcinogenic, and have been linked to heart attack and stroke in healthy men.

An American study showed that infants who are exposed to relatively higher levels of particulate matter over a period of weeks to months are more likely to develop bronchiolitis severe enough to warrant hospitalization, and a high proportion of these go on to develop chronic respiratory symptoms of recurrent wheezing and asthma.

Another American study shows an association between respiratory-related deaths of infants (between one month and one year old) and fine particle air pollution in California, adding to previous literature in the United States and in other countries that air pollution may be associated with some infant deaths.

EFFECTS ON THE HEALTH OF CHILDREN
Babies with respiratory problems often develop asthma as children. Dr Dick van Steenis recently visited Australia from the UK. His studies, and others, showed that both PM1 and PM2.5 particulates produced by open-cut coal mines also cause new cases of asthma to develop in children, especially if toxic waste is present due to known or unknown tipping.

He confirmed a rise in asthma to affect 33% of primary school children living within one mile of an open-cut coal mine, a cumulative rise to 21 % at two miles and even up to 12% at three miles.
Particle analysis done in the UK show that asthma is caused by
·         Cut quartz particles less than PM1 in size, which are "second to asbestos in terms of serious effects on the lungs. The body has to wall off these particles, causing fibrosis, which was called silicosis in underground miners, but which equally applies above ground". coal particles less than PM1, which cause inflammation. Human white blood cells can only ingest a certain amount of PM 1-
·         2.5 particulates - the rest are walled off, causing chronic pulmonary obstructive disease and fibrosis.
Dr van Steenis states that the alleged ability to control dust by open-cut mining companies is a fallacy. The PM2.5 and PM1 dust cannot be controlled. The lightness of fine particles allows them to remain suspended for long periods, and to blow hundreds of kilometres.

Australian Dr Pauline Roberts is concerned about the effect of heavy metal exposure through inhalation of particulate matter on children's growth and behaviour. High lead levels, for example, have been linked to a reduction in IQ, negative classroom behaviour, juvenile delinquency and increased violent behaviour.

EFFECTS ON THE HEALTH OF ADULTS
Long-term exposure to air pollution from coal mining leads to increasingly serious lung diseases, such as chronic pulmonary obstructive disease, fibrosis and lung cancer. There will also be increased incidence of heart attacks, generalized premature deaths, strokes, type 2 diabetes, clinical depression and other conditions resulting from any toxic waste contaminating the site, for example cancers, hormone disorders, birth defects, skin rashes, eye inflammation, and nausea, due to pollutants such as organic compounds, heavy metals, dioxins and even radio-active matter.

In a study of coal mining communities in West Virginia, Michael Hendryx found that high levels of coal production were associated with higher rates of cardiopulmonary disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, hypertension, lung disease, and kidney disease.

The Hunter Valley Research Foundation’s 2008-2009 report into Newcastle and the Hunter Valley reveals "an increased mortality; decreased life expectancy; increased rates of lung, skin and colorectal cancer; and increased rates of death from breast, cervical and prostate cancer when compared to the rest of NSW in general."

An American study showed that 55% of open-cut coal mine workers had developed lung damage by twenty years of age. In the USA and the UK, governments are paying massive amounts in compensation for lung damage caused by their failure to exercise duty of care in relation to the health of the population.

This should be a lesson for our governments. Europe has a Human Rights Convention which can be used by people whose health is threatened by proposed harmful activities. We Indians have no such safety net. Our governments have turned a blind eye to our entitlement to a clean and healthy environment.

Tailpiece:  I do not  know the distance from Murmugao Harbor and Dona Paula Jetty…but it is surely short enough to affect the quality of air there. A reason enough to find support to the movement  for stricter regulations at the port.

REFERENCES
  • Partial list of chemicals associated with diesel exhaust http://www.osha.gov/SLTC/dieselexhaust/chemical.html 
  • Diesel pollution linked to heart attack and stroke in healthy men http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/88329.php)
  • Relations Between Health Indicators and Residential Proximity to Coal Mining in West Virginia http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2376994/
  • Effects of Subchronic and Chronic Exposure to Ambient Air Pollutants on Infant Bronchiolitis http://aje.oxfordjournals.org/content/165/5/553.short
  • Fine Particulate Matter (PM2.5) Air Pollution and Selected Causes of Postneonatal Infant Mortality in California http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1459937/
  • Coal opencasting and health http://www.countrydoctor.co.uk/precis/precis%20-%20Opencasting%20coal%20and%20health.htm
  • Submission by Dr Pauline Roberts to the Senate Select committee on agricultural and related issues; 13 May 2009 https://senate.aph.gov.au/submissions/.../viewdocument.aspx?id
  • Greens mining http://nonewcoal.greens.org.au/
  • Air info now: What is particulate matter? http://www.airinfonow.com/html/ed_particulate.html