Many uranium miners have been disabled by and died of pulmonary fibrosis that was not recognized as an occupational disease. A review of animal studies, complications from whole body irradiation, pulmonary function, and mortality studies of uranium miners led us to suspect radiation-induced chronic diffuse interstitial fibrosis in miners who had inhaled excessive radon progeny. A selected group of uranium miners (22) with severe respiratory disease (but no rounded nodules in chest films) were studied. Lung tissue from five disclosed severe diffuse interstitial fibrosis, with"honeycomb lung" in all. Some also had small anthrasilicotic nodules and birefringent crystals. Although quartz crystals probably contributed, we concluded that the predominant injurious agent in these cases was alpha particles from radon progeny. This disease, after a long latent period, usually results in pulmonary hypertension, shortness of breath, and death by cardiopulmonary failure.
From the Department of Family and Preventive Medicine, Rocky Mountain Center for Occupational and Environmental Health (Dr Archer), Department of Medicine, Division of Respiratory, Critical Care and Occupational (Pulmonary) Medicine (Dr Renzetti), Department of Pathology (Dr Doggett), University of Utah School of Medicine, Salt Lake City, Utah (Dr Archer); the National Jewish Center for Immunology and Respiratory Medicine, Denver, Colo. (Dr Jarvis); and the Department of Pathology, Mayo Clinic-Scottsdale, Scottsdale, Ariz. (Dr Colby).
Address correspondence to: Victor E. Archer, MD, Department of Family and Preventive Medicine, Rocky Mountain Center for Occupational and Environmental Health, University of Utah School of Medicine, Building 512, Salt Lake City, UT 84112.