Exposure to dangerously high levels of dust, such as asbestos and crystalline silica, continues to become an increasing problem in today’s society. Such exposure can lead to a range of serious health problems, some of which could become fatal.
The range of diseases that emerge from toxic exposure are vast and varied. Some more commonly known than others but each may dramatically effect ones health. These include:
Mesothelioma, is an aggressive form of cancer that commonly effects the lining of the lungs and the chest wall. It can also effect the linings of the abdomen and the sac surrounding the heart. Signs of mesothelioma can range from shortness of breath, due to fluid around the lungs, to exhaustion, chest pain and excessive weight loss. On average, approximately 80% of all mesothelioma is caused by exposure to asbestos.
Asbestosis is one of the most common asbestos diseases in today’s society. It is long term scarring and inflammation of the lung due to asbestos inhalation. Symptoms may include shortness of breath, coughing, wheezing and chest pain. Complications from this exposure can lead to lung cancer and pulmonary heath disease. Those who are most at risk are those who worked in occupations where asbestos was rife. For example construction, demolition, automotive, boiler making and power station industries where there was prolonged exposure to asbestos dust.
Asbestos related pleural disease
Asbestos related pleural disease is most commonly known as being asbestos related pleural effusion. It is a non-malignant disease which is caused by inhaling asbestos fibres and dust that scar the pleura. Symptom may include, but are not limited to, shortness of breath and discomfort in the chest region. While the symptoms of asbestos pleural disease are similar to that of asbestosis, asbestos pleural disease occurs in the lining of the lungs as opposed to the lungs themselves.
Silica Induced Diseases
Silicosis is a form of lung disease that is commonly developed in the workplace. It is cause by the inhalation of crystalline silica dust and has become an occupational hazard in areas such as mining, stone cutting, sandblasting and fibreglass manufacturing. Like most lung diseases, the symptoms include shortness of breath, fatigue, chest pain and fever. The conditions may also include distinct symptoms in the form off gradual darkening of the skin to a shade of blue.
Scleroderma is a group of autoimmune diseases that can either be localised to skin or involve other internal organs along with the skin. These diseases may result in changes to the skin, blood vessels, muscles and internal organs. Symptoms may include but are not limited to: thickened skin, exhaustion, stiffness and extremely poor circulation to the fingers and toes with exposure to the cold.
There has been medical literature in existence for decades which confirms a connection between scleroderma and silica dust exposure in many industries including mining, sand blasting and stone cutting occupations.
Rheumatoid Arthritis is another autoimmune disorder that can be caused by exposure to silica dust. The disease typically affects ones joints and is more common in middle-aged men and women. There have been reports over the years of the hazards of silica dust and how it may trigger not only respiratory diseases but also autoimmune conditions like rheumatoid arthritis.
Coal Dust Disease
Coal Miners Black Lung (Pneumoconiosis)
Coal workers’ pneumoconiosis, or more commonly known as black lung disease, is a condition that is caused by long-term exposure to coal dust. Given its name, it is generally found in coal miners and other occupations that handle coal. Over time, the inhaled coal dust accumulates in the lungs, which cannot be removed, and can lead to inflammation, fibrosis and even necrosis.
The severity of this disease was well publicized in 2016/17 in the Queensland Parliamentary enquiry into the prevalence of Black Lung in the Australian Mining Industry. This is a disease which continues to effect miners throughout Australia to the present day.
Other Dust/Toxic Exposure Diseases
Occupational asthma is asthma that is either caused by, or worsened by, the workplace environment. Most commonly it is due to some sort of exposure to substances that may cause an allergic reaction, an irritant reaction or a reaction which may result in naturally occurring chemicals, such as histamines, building up in the lungs which results in an asthma attack.
Carbon Monoxide Poisoning
Carbon Monoxide Poisoning speaks for itself. It is poisoning that occurs when one has inhaled too much carbon monoxide, which can be found in oils and fuels. When one is exposed to this type of poisoning, symptoms have been described to that of having the flu (headaches, dizziness, weakness, vomiting, chest pain and confusion). Additionally, respiratory problems are linked to such exposure. There are many ways one can be subjected to such poisoning, from working in petroleum fuel based industries, house fires and working with gas-powered tools such as concrete cutting saws and poorly maintained vehicles without proper safety equipment or ventilation. Prolonged exposure to Carbon Monoxide can increase the risk of heart disease and lead to acute respiratory distress syndrome.
Timber Dust Exposure (Nasal Adenocarcinoma)
Those exposed to the cutting and milling of timber may develop ill health including diseases and conditions such as respiratory allergic reaction, non-allergic respiratory reaction (mucosal) and carcinogenicity, namely certain types of cancer including nasal cancers such as nasal adenocarcinoma. Some symptoms of nasal adenocarcinoma are blocked sinuses that do not clear, headaches or pain in the sinus area, nosebleeds, with a lump on the inside of the nose or on the face and swelling of the eyes. Those most at risk are tradespersons such as carpenters and those that work with timber production.
Benzene Poisoning occurs when one swallows, inhales or touches benzene, which is a clear petroleum-based chemical that can be found in gasoline and diesel fuel, many industrial solvents and in various paints, lacquers and varnish removers. Symptoms can be, but are not limited to, blurred vision, irregular heartbeat, dizziness, exhaustion and tightness in the chest. There has also been a link between long-term benzene exposure and types of lymphoma such as multiple myeloma, acute lymphocytic leukaemia and chronic lymphocytic leukaemia. Those mainly at risk are those that work in chemical plants, paper factories, oil refineries and those that work as painters.