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Original research
Prevalence and severity of abnormal lung function among US former coal miners with and without radiographic coal workers’ pneumoconiosis


Objectives Examination of lung function abnormalities among coal miners has historically focused on actively working miners. This likely underestimates the true burden of chronic respiratory disease. The objective of this study was to characterise patterns and severity of lung function impairment among a population of former coal miners.

Methods Cross-sectional data from 2568 former coal miners evaluated at eight US Black Lung clinics in a 12-month period were retrospectively analysed for patterns of prebronchodilator spirometric abnormality and severity of lung function impairment. Spirometry data from a subset of former miners with chest radiographs were analysed based on the presence and severity of coal workers’ pneumoconiosis (CWP).

Results Abnormal spirometry was identified in 56.6% of subjects. The age-standardised prevalence of airflow obstruction among miners aged ≥45 years was 18.9% overall and 12.2% among never smokers. Among 1624 subjects who underwent chest radiography, the prevalence and severity of abnormal spirometry increased with worsening radiographic category for pneumoconiosis. Of never-smoking former miners without radiographic CWP, 39.0% had abnormal spirometry; 25.1% had abnormally low forced expiratory volume in 1 s (FEV1), and 17.1% had moderate to severe FEV1 impairment.

Conclusions Abnormal spirometry is common among former coal miners. While ever-smoking former miners had higher rates of airflow obstruction, never-smoking former miners also demonstrated clinically significant airflow obstruction, including those without radiographic pneumoconiosis. These findings demonstrate the importance of recognising physiological as well as imaging manifestations of coal mine dust lung diseases in former miners.

  • coal mining
  • public health surveillance
  • physiology
  • lung diseases
  • interstitial
  • respiratory system

Data availability statement

No data are available. Data used in the study are patient data.

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