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PO Box 360
Trenton, NJ 08625-0360

For Release:
June 14, 2004

Clifton R. Lacy, M.D.

For Further Information Contact:
Donna Leusner
(609) 984-7160

Construction Workers at Risk of Disabling Lung Disease


          Workers repairing roads and highways are at significant risk of developing a debilitating lung disease caused by exposure to silica dust found in road surface construction materials, researchers at the New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services have found.

          Silicosis is a disabling, non-reversible, and sometimes fatal lung disease caused by breathing in tiny particles of silica dust that can be found in concrete and other masonry products.  The disease usually takes 20 years or more to develop. Symptoms include shortness of breath, wheezing, chest tightness and cough -- although initially there may be no symptoms.

          The American Journal of Public Health reported the research findings in its May 2004 issue in an article titled “Highway Repair: A New Silicosis Threat.” The New Jersey researchers recommended various dust control and personal protection methods to protect workers from this silicosis hazard. 

          First diagnosed in ancient Greek miners, silicosis is one of the oldest known occupational diseases. A relatively common disease during the last century, it was usually found among workers in the foundry, ceramic, tunneling, and sand mining industries, occupations that were common in New Jersey at that time.  Well publicized outbreaks of silicosis have occurred during large public works projects such as the New York City water tunnel construction and the Gauley Bridge disaster in West Virginia.

          The fast growing highway repair industry, fueled by federal and state spending as the nation’s 50-year-old interstate highway system ages, has led to increased dust exposure among construction workers.  These projects utilize a new, more permanent method of cut-and-repair road maintenance in which large crews saw, cut, break up and remove large sections of concrete road before patching begins.  This combination of frequent work and high dust exposure has created a silicosis hazard researchers found.

          The New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS) conducts occupational health surveillance research to identify and prevent cases of occupational disease among New Jersey workers.  New Jersey law requires physicians and hospitals to report to the Department cases of disease identified as work-related.  The Department’s Occupational Health Surveillance Program investigates these cases and conducts workplace evaluations to assist companies in preventing worker exposure to hazardous substances. 

          New Jersey is one of a handful of states conducting this type of research, which is partially funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.      

          To obtain a copy of the article, “Highway Repair: A New Silicosis Threat,” please call the DHSS Office of Communications, (609) 984-7160.

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