Mining Contract: Characterization of Submicron-/Nano-scale Coal Dusts and Their Effects on Miners' Pneumoconiosis and Lung Cancer for Underground Coal Mines

Contract # 75D30118C05128
Start Date 8/27/2019
Research Concept

The toxicity of coal dust and its varying composition could be primary factors for coal workers' pneumoconiosis (CWP). Recent studies have confirmed that nano-sized particles are potentially more toxic due to their unique physicochemical properties and easier uptake by living organisms. The underlying mechanism of miners’ lung diseases due to the exposure of nano-coal dusts (NCDs) is not well understood, and their role in CWP is largely unknown. This research contract will characterize the NCD particles of different grades of coal and analyze the interaction between NCDs and lung cells.

Contract Status & Impact

This contract is ongoing. For more information on this contract, send a request to

Coal mine dust-related respiratory diseases, particularly coal workers' pneumoconiosis (CWP), are a risk for coal miners, and that risk appears to be increasing, not declining.

A 2014 analysis of 30 years worth of NIOSH Coal Workers’ Health Surveillance Program (CWHSP) screenings found that about 38% of coal miners with radiographic findings of interstitial disease had primarily irregular opacities. Since 2000, rates of CWP have increased, with some cases advancing to the more severe progressive massive fibrosis (PMF). This is in spite of efforts by the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) and other entities to either regulate or otherwise reduce coal dust levels in underground coal mines.

In 2006, MSHA established a coal dust regulation limiting coal miners' exposure to respirable dust to concentration levels of less than 2 mg/m3 of ventilated air. On August 1, 2016, MSHA lowered the permissible respirable dust level to concentrations of less than 1.5 mg/m3.

Unfortunately, recent observations have showed an increased incidence of CWP or other lung disease, particularly among young miners in Appalachia.

Further reducing the permissible exposures to respirable dust concentrations may not be effective because excessive dust concentrations may not be at the root of CWP.

Researchers in this study will work closely with partner mines to:

  1. collect fresh coal dust at different working locations;
  2. characterize physical, compositional, and petrophysical properties of coal dusts; and
  3. study the biological effects of NCDs on lung cell cultures and the interaction of NCDs with lung tissue by using a lung-on-chip device.

Page last reviewed: February 17, 2023
Page last updated: February 17, 2023