What are dust diseases?

Dust diseases are a group of lung illnesses caused by inhaling certain products when they are in powder or dust form. While the majority of dust diseases have historically been caused by asbestos dust, Silicosis is concerningly becoming a national health crisis.

Silicosis is a long-term lung disease caused by inhaling unsafe levels of silica dust, usually over a period of many years.

Dust diseases are most often contracted in work environments where workers are exposed to or handle products and materials containing harmful dusts. People who work with certain materials may inhale a very fine dust that contains silica (the main mineral constituent of sand and of many kinds of rock. Once inside the lungs, the dust particles can scar the lungs. This scarring is known as silicosis.

Silicosis can lead to breathing problems, a serious lung condition called Progressive Massive Fibrosis (PMF), or lung cancer. There is no cure for silicosis and it can be fatal.

Workplaces with risk of dust-exposure include:

  • Home building sites
  • Commercial construction sites
  • Import and waterside precincts
  • Logistics and trucking industries
  • Excavations and tunnel works
  • Workshops where Caesar stone is cut

Dusts that can cause diseases when inhaled:

  • Asbestos
  • Crystalline silica
  • Hard metals, for example tungsten, cobalt
  • Aluminium, beryllium
  • Bagasse, cotton and mouldy hay
  • Straw or grain

Workplace dust can be inhaled when:

  • Dust is created – usually by cutting, sanding, drilling or grinding
  • When it’s disturbed, for example during building renovations or during earthworks
  • The risk of developing a dust disease is low. The risk of disease may increase with increased exposure to dust.

Symptoms of dust diseases

The symptoms of dust diseases are similar to many other respiratory illnesses. Dust diseases can be diagnosed through medical tests.

Common disease symptoms:

  • Coughing
  • Shortness of breath or abnormal breathing
  • Chest pain
  • Mucus in the airways (sputum production)

Dust diseases do not generally appear until many years after exposure. They can cause benign thickening or scarring of lung tissue. Asbestos dust can also cause lung cancer and malignant mesothelioma.

Have you been impacted?

Have you had a Silicosis diagnosis or are you worried that you may have been exposed?

Please contact our Silicosis Support Nurse Jenny Coles via phone + 61 2 9767 9800 or email jenny.coles@addri.org.au.

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