Rationale: Recent reports of progressive massive fibrosis and rapidly progressive pneumoconiosis in U.S. coal miners have raised concerns about excessive exposures to coal mine dust, despite reports of declining dust levels.
Objectives: To evaluate the histologic abnormalities and retained dust particles in available coal miner lung pathology specimens, and to compare these findings with those derived from corresponding chest radiographs.
Methods: Miners with severe disease and available lung tissue were identified through investigator outreach. Demographic as well as smoking and work history information was obtained. Chest radiographs were interpreted according to the International Labor Organization classification scheme to determine if criteria for rapidly progressive pneumoconiosis were confirmed. Pathology slides were scored by three expert pulmonary pathologists using a standardized nomenclature and scoring system.
Measurements and main results: Thirteen cases were reviewed, many of which had features of accelerated silicosis and mixed dust lesions. Twelve had progressive massive fibrosis, and 11 had silicosis. Only four had classic lesions of simple coal workers' pneumoconiosis. Four had diffuse interstitial fibrosis with chronic inflammation, and two had focal alveolar proteinosis. Polarized light microscopy revealed large amounts of birefringent mineral dust particles consistent with silica and silicates; carbonaceous coal dust was less prominent. On the basis of chest imaging studies, specimens with features of silicosis were significantly associated (P = 0.047) with rounded (type p, q, or r) opacities, whereas grade 3 interstitial fibrosis was associated (P = 0.02) with the presence of irregular (type s, t, or u) opacities.
Conclusions: Our findings suggest that rapidly progressive pneumoconiosis in these miners was associated with exposure to coal mine dust containing high concentrations of respirable silica and silicates.
Keywords: anthracosis; coal mining; pathology; pneumoconiosis; silicosis.