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Occupational Lung Disease

Repeated exposure to harmful particles, chemicals, vapors or gases while at work can cause a variety of occupational lung diseases. Some of these are fairly well known (such as black lung, affecting unprotected coal miners, or asbestosis, which affects persons who have worked with asbestos).

For more information, please call 617-789-2AIR (2247) or email 

Our multidisciplinary Occupational Lung Disease team is led by Gerard B. Hayes, MD, director of Pulmonary and Critical Care Fellowship Program.

Occupational Lung Disease symptoms often include:

  • Allergies with hay fever-like symptoms.
  • Chronic irritation that can scar the lungs.
  • Cancer of the lungs or the lining of the chest and lungs (mesothelioma), which may be due to asbestos exposure
  • Death of cells in the airways and air sacs of the lungs

Many different kinds of particles, mists, vapors or gases can harm the lungs, including organic materials like grain dusts, cotton dust or animal dander; certain chemicals or metal salts, including asbestos.

The names of certain occupational lung diseases are based on the cause of the disease. Some occupational lung diseases and people who are at risk of developing them are:

  • Asbestosis: from exposure to asbestos
  • Benign pneumoconiosis, pneumoconiosis, which may affect welders and metal workers
  • Beryllium disease, which may affect metallurgical (castings) workers
  • Byssinosis which may affect people who work with certain natural textiles, such as cotton, hemp, jute and flax
  • Hypersensitivity pneumonitis, which may affect workers in office buildings that have air-conditioning systems contaminated by certain fungi and bacteria; and workers exposed to urethanes
  • Occupational asthma may affect people who work with animals, shellfish, irritating gases, vapors and mists, grains, castor beans, isocyanates (urethanes), dyes, antibiotics, epoxy resins, tea and enzymes used in making detergent, malt, leather goods, latex, jewelry abrasives and automotive paints
  • Silicosis may affect people who work around clay, sand and stone dust


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