Occupational lung disease historical perspective

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Editor-In-Chief: C. Michael Gibson, M.S., M.D. [1];Associate Editor(s)-in-Chief: Hadeel Maksoud M.D.[2]


Occupational lung diseases have long been described since the Egyptian and Roman empires existed. The 10th century to the 18th century demonstrated the largest period of industrial mechanization and infrastructure, this led to the awareness and advent of occupational health hazards and sciences. These movements led to the rising need for trade unions and workers' legislation. Dr. Benardino Ramazzini, described as the "father of occupational medicine" was first to coin the term "disease of workers" in the 17th century. Later in the 20th century , Dr. Alison Hamilton became a leading expert in occupational health.

Historical Perspective

  • Occupational lung diseases have been described since the time of Egyptian, Grecian and Roman empires, where extensive land mining and building took place.[1][2][3]
  • Furthermore, in the 16th and 17th century an awareness for occupational health hazards became apparent with exposure to arsenic, lead and carbon monoxide.
  • In the 18th century, Dr. Bernardino Ramazzini, described as "the father of occupational medicine" described the "disease of workers" in the 1700s.
  • In the late 18th century, Hale introduced the importance of ventilation and Von Humboldt invented gas masks for coal workers.
  • The advent of the industrial revolution beginning with cotton picking in India in the 10th century, and leading up to mechanization in Europe later in the 18th century greatly contributed to the prevalence of occupational lung disease.
  • In the 19th century, workers that suffered from occupational disease initiated the legislation, trade union and insurance movements.
  • In the 20th century, Dr. Alice Hamilton established the study on occupational disease, whilst Dr. Hariett Hardy and Dr. Irving Selikoff described berylliosis and asbestosis respectively.


  • There has been a recent cluster discovery in February 2018 of coal worker's pneumoconiosis amongst coal miner's in Kentucky, Virginia and West Virginia.
  • Coal worker's pneumoconiosis complicated by progressive massive fibrosis in these regions was previously seen 5 - 7 times per year.
  • As of February 2018, 154 new cases were diagnosed within one year.

Impact on Cultural History

  • The slave trade and industrial revolution are crucial events in history that established many occupational hazards.


  1. Kreiss K, Gomaa A, Kullman G, Fedan K, Simoes EJ, Enright PL (2002). "Clinical bronchiolitis obliterans in workers at a microwave-popcorn plant". N. Engl. J. Med. 347 (5): 330–8. doi:10.1056/NEJMoa020300. PMID 12151470.
  2. Crosland M (2009). "The French Academy of Sciences as a patron of the medical sciences in the early nineteenth century". Ann Sci. 66 (2): 247–65. doi:10.1080/00033790802292638. PMID 19831262.
  3. Sigerist HE (1936). "The Wesley M. Carpenter Lecture: "Historical Background of Industrial and Occupational Diseases"". Bull N Y Acad Med. 12 (11): 597–609. PMC 1965828. PMID 19312003.