It is well known that silica exposure leads in an experimental model to the development of an acute fibrotic process. In human beings two main observations have already been done: (1) silica exposure is frequently associated with the development of connective tissue disease (CTD), especially progressive systemic sclerosis; (2) 10 to 20% patients with CTD developed pulmonary fibrosis. In this context we report 26 cases of coal miners who presented with clinical, radiological, biological and functional characteristics mimicking idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF), with or without associated coal worker's pneumoconiosis (CWP). All were men; mean age was 68 +/- 9.2 years. Twenty-three were smokers. Duration of exposure was 28.8 +/- 9.1 years. All the patients had dyspnea (stage III, IV in the NHYA classification) and diffuse crackles. Eleven out of 26 had finger clubbing. Computed tomography showed honeycombing (23 cases), and/or ground glass opacities (6 cases) with bronchiectasis (3 cases) predominant in the lower lobes; 19 had radiological signs of CWP, micronodules (n = 16) and nodules (n = 3) predominant in the upper lobes. BAL exhibited an increased % of neutrophils (11.9 +/- 16.1%). Lung function demonstrated a restrictive pattern (TLC = 73 +/- 15.6% and VC = 80 +/- 18% of predicted values) associated with a decreased DLCO (51.8 +/- 23.6% of predicted values) and hypoxemia (at rest = 66.5 +/- 11.2 mmHg, upon effort = 56 +/- 12 mmHg). Lung biopsies were performed in four cases and demonstrated interstitial fibrosis of intraalveolar septum with an accumulation of immune and inflammatory cells similar to the one described in IPF. The association between IPF and silica exposure with or without associated CWP points out the problem of legal recognition of idiopathic-like pulmonary fibrosis as a complication of the occupational exposure of coal workers.