The official blog of the Lung Institute.
Polluted air in the Workplace
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) can be caused by a variety of environmental factors. The main contributing factor to the development of COPD is smoking, but regular exposure to air pollutants increases your chances of causing COPD to develop. By paying close attention to the air you breathe and by keeping your lungs healthy, you can ward off the likelihood of suffering from COPD. The first step is making sure you’re not involved in certain professions that are bad for COPD.
You’re Not too Young to Worry
Most patients are diagnosed with COPD between the ages of 55 and 75, but the disease starts to develop when people are much younger. Smoking is the leading cause of COPD, and most people start smoking at a very young age, in fact, of current smokers, over 68 percent started smoking when they were 18 or younger. However, the pollutants that employees are exposed to in the work place accounts for 19 percent of all COPD cases and over 31 percent of COPD cases in people whom have never smoked. Pollutants don’t typically lead to COPD unless there is a history of continuous exposure over long periods of time. So even though your lungs may feel healthy, COPD may be lurking in your future.
Professions that Are Bad for COPD
There are plenty of factors that are difficult to control when it comes to breathing polluted air. Where you live is difficult to manage, especially if you need to live close to work, but it’s not impossible. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) publishes an annual list of the areas of the country that have the most and least pollution in the air. Educating yourself about the air that you breathe is a great first step in preventing COPD.
It is also important to educate yourself on the dangers of some occupations when it comes to damaging your lungs. Occupational lung disease (OLD) is an increasingly diagnosed disease and includes COPD that is brought on by a specific profession. The most typical cause for OLD is through exposure to toxic irritants and fumes like dust and chemicals. The following industries have been found to be very dangerous for the health of your lungs:
- Coal Mining – small coal dust particles get trapped in your lungs causing coal worker’s pneumoconiosis (black lung).
- Asbestos Remediation – it’s impossible to remove asbestos in an environment that is 100 percent safe. If the material is inhaled it can causes asbestosis and mesothelioma. Unfortunately, the smallest fibers are the most dangerous to your lungs and very hard to avoid.
- Welding – the inhalation of small particles of any metal is detrimental to the lungs. The largest danger comes from the fumes emitted during the welding process, specifically manganese particles.
- Sandblasting and Construction – silicosis is the most common form of lung disease when working around silica dust in occupations like sand blasting and other various construction jobs. Studies have directly linked the inhalation of silica dust to developing COPD.
- Metal Refining – a byproduct of lead, zinc and copper refining, cadmium is a soft metal that is often found in compounds joining oxygen and sulfur. The compound enters your lungs and it is very difficult to expel. Exposure to cadmium can cause chronic emphysema.
These occupations don’t always lead to developing COPD or other serious lung disease, but knowing your risks can help you safeguard yourself against the disease. Always wear protective breathing gear whenever you’re working in an environment that is heaving with dust and fumes, especially if organic or chemical materials are dispersed into the air. Smoking is always bad for lung health, but combining an occupation that increases your risks of COPD and smoking can create a critical environment for your lungs.