Questionable Study Raises Health Concerns for Sand and Gravel Workers

A new study by Michigan State University shows an increase in doctor visits for shortness of breath among long-term sand and gravel mine workers in the state, compared to the rate for production workers in other industries. But does the study bring up legitimate concerns or was it designed to highlight a solution to a problem that does not exist?

The College of Human Medicine studied lung disease and the exposure to silica, other allergens and irritants of mine workers who have worked more than 15 years in the industry. The state has more than 3,500 surface miners, 1,207 of whom voluntarily participated in the study.

Though researchers found no cases of silicosis, a lung disease affecting many miners, they did find an increased prevalence of seeing a doctor for shortness of breath, possible work-related asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

“In all my years of working in this industry, both in environmental and safety, I have never heard of this,” said aggregates industry safety and health consultant Joseph McGuire, a regular contributor to Rock Products. “Sounds like a university probably got a grant to do this study and set it up so they would not lose.”

There are about 450 surface mines in Michigan. Allegan, Kalamazoo, Kent, Lapeer, Livingston, Oakland, Roscommon and Washtenaw counties all have five or more sand and gravel mines.

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