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Lung cancer in a nonsmoking underground uranium miner.

  • Mulloy, K B
  • James, D S
  • Mohs, K
  • Kornfeld, M
Published Article
Environmental health perspectives
Publication Date
Mar 01, 2001
PMID: 11333194


Working in mines is associated with acute and chronic occupational disorders. Most of the uranium mining in the United States took place in the Four Corners region of the Southwest (Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, and Utah) and on Native American lands. Although the uranium industry collapsed in the late 1980s, the industry employed several thousand individuals who continue to be at increased risk for developing lung cancers. We present the case of a 72-year-old Navajo male who worked for 17 years as an underground uranium miner and who developed lung cancer 22 years after leaving the industry. His total occupational exposure to radon progeny was estimated at 506 working level months. The miner was a life-long nonsmoker and had no other significant occupational or environmental exposures. On the chest X-ray taken at admission into the hospital, a right lower lung zone infiltrate was detected. The patient was treated for community-acquired pneumonia and developed respiratory failure requiring mechanical ventilation. Respiratory failure worsened and the patient died 19 days after presenting. On autopsy, a 2.5 cm squamous cell carcinoma of the right lung arising from the lower lobe bronchus, a right broncho-esophageal fistula, and a right lower lung abscess were found. Malignant respiratory disease in uranium miners may be from several occupational exposures; for example, radon decay products, silica, and possibly diesel exhaust are respiratory carcinogens that were commonly encountered. In response to a growing number of affected uranium miners, the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act (RECA) was passed by the U.S. Congress in 1990 to make partial restitution to individuals harmed by radiation exposure resulting from underground uranium mining and above-ground nuclear tests in Nevada.

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