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What are occupational lung diseases?

The source of some chronic or life-threatening illnesses can be found in Hackensack workplaces. Occupational asthma is one of several lung diseases contracted by working in contaminated environments. Employees who suffer occupational asthma are people who initially develop asthma at work or whose existing asthma is aggravated on the job.

New Jersey was part of a seven-year study to identify jobs with a high risk of occupational asthma. Making up about one-third of all identified victims were fabricators, operators and laborers. More than 20 percent were managers or professionals and another 19 percent were salespeople, office support staff and technical workers.

Researchers found asthma was triggered by chemicals in almost 20 percent of all cases. Cleaning products, dust and interior pollutants also contributed to the illnesses. Health officials estimated up to 23 percent of all new adult-onset asthma cases are tied to unhealthy job environments.

Occupational asthma is the most common among several lung diseases caused by poisonous substance exposure. Some job-linked illnesses like mesothelioma, asbestosis and silicosis are closely related to certain occupations. All three destructive conditions, diagnosed years or decades after exposure, are the result of inhaling toxic minerals – asbestos fibers or silica dust.

An estimated 1.3 million U.S. workers are exposed to asbestos, mostly but not exclusively industrial and construction workers. Another 1 million employees inhale or ingest silica while working as machine operators and in foundries and mines.

Sick building syndrome is a temporary lung condition affecting large groups of employees who work in the same environment. Workers develop varying symptoms that disappear after leaving the building. Poor building ventilation and indoor and outdoor chemical exposure can contribute to SBS.

All of these lung diseases are preventable when employers invest in safety plans, protective gear and worker training. Attorneys help employees with job-related illnesses secure workers' compensation benefits and, in some cases, additional compensation through legal actions.

Source: American Lung Association, "Occupational Lung Disease" accessed Mar. 19, 2015

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