Although statistically, mining in the US does not have a particularly high fatality rate, it exemplifies the link between environmentally degrading behaviors and their effect on human health. Hazards in the mining industry vary depending on the type (surface v. underground), but generally include the following: hearing loss due to drilling, blasting, crushing and ore processing (Frank T), skeletal misalignment due to intense vibrations of equipment (Narini), and health problems associated with harmful chemical and biological components (Donoghue). Miners are at an especially high risk for lung cancer due to exposure to asbestos, arsenic, cyanide solvent, xanthates and mercury in mines, and to other conditions caused by exposure to cyanide solvent, hydrofluoric acid, and sulphide dioxide in the processing stages (Donoghue 2 +3). Biological hazards include disease contraction through rats, which are commonly found in mines, and malaria and dengue fever contraction in tropical mine sites (Hansen, Donohoe).
Ergonomic disorders are also common due to the repetitive overhead and stooping motions (NIOSH), which sometimes continue over the course of 12 hour shifts (Baker). Sleep deprivation, which is common in jobs with shift work, has been shown to impair cognative and motor performance, increasing the rate of harmful accidents (Williamson). Incidents such as rock falls, fires, explosions, mobile equipment accidents, falls from height, entrapment, electrocution and heat stroke all contribute the high incidence of fatalities in the mining industry (NIOSH).
Seasonal farmworkers in the agricultural industry are also at high risk for occupational injuries and health problems. Seasonal farmworkers are individuals employed by the agricultural sector on a seasonal basis, and total about 1.4 million works, many of whom are documented or undocumented immigrants. Agriculture is one of the most hazardous occupations in the United States; the average life expectancy of MSFWs is 49 years, compared with the national average of 75 years (Hansen, Donohoe).
Working in extreme weather conditions is associated with heat stroke, heat exhaustion, and heat cramps, while overexposure to sun leads to higher incidences of melanoma (NRHCA). Intense physical labor causes traumatic injuries such as fractures and sprains, joint and tissue irritation, and accelerated joint degeneration (Villareio). Contact with certain plants causes various types of dermatitis (Villareio)
Pesticide exposure is linked to many physical symptoms from nausea and vomiting to bradycardia, heart block, hypotension, pulmonary edema and paralysis. Pesticide poisoning can also cause spontaneous abortion, premature delivery, fetal malformation and growth retardation, as well as increased incidence of respiratory disease and developmental delay in children. Pesticide exposure is also related to farm laborers’ increased mortality rates for cancers of the lip, stomach, skin (melanotic and nonmelanotic), prostate, testes, and hematopoietic and lymphatic systems (NRHCA).
Although office workers suffer far fewer serious ongoing illnesses and fatalities than farmworkers of miners, environmental hazards in office buildings have documented negative health effects as well. These are generally related to poor air quality exposure in the cases of BRIs, (Building Related Illnesses), and SBS (Sick Building Syndrome). Building related illensses are classified as “symptoms of diagnosable illness [which can be] identified and can be attributed directly to airborne building contaminants,” while sick building syndrome is defined as “situations in which building occupants experience acute health and comfort effects that appear to be linked to time spent in a building, but no specific illness or cause can be identified.” (BRI, SBS).
The causes of SBS are generally recognized as inadequate ventilation, biological contaminants such as bacteria, molds pollen and viruses, and indoor and outdoor chemical contaminants (SBS). Indoor chemical contaminants include VOCs, or volatile organic compounds, which are emitted by common office items, such as adhesives, carpeting, upholstery, manufactured wood products, copy machines, pesticides, cleaning agents, and tobacco smoke residue (SBS). Outdoor chemical contaminants include motor vehicle exhaust, sewage vents and other pollution sources that are not adequately ventilated away from the building (SBS).
The indicators of both BRIs and SBS include eye, nose, or throat irritation, cough, chest tightness, fever, chills, muscle aches, fatigue, dizziness, nausea and trouble concentrating (SBS, BRI). In the case of high exposure to concentrated contaminants, symptoms may not disappear even when workers leave the building. (SBS, BRI)
Drawings on the left show normal development in children from a community where pesticide exposure was low. Drawings on the right show impaired neurological development in children from a community where pesticide exposure was high.
Lim, M. “Health and economic impact of occupational heatlh = services.” SJWEH (2005) 1:38-42.
Policy Forum. “Introduction: benefit-cost analysis and the = environment in developing countries.” Environment and Development E= conomics (1997) 2:195-221.
Rosenstock, L., M. Cullen, and M. Fingerhut. Occupational Health.= W.B. Saunders Company, 2006, 1127-1145.
Stewart, W.F., J.A. Ricci, E. Chee. “Lost productive time an= d cost due to common pain conditions in the US workforce.” JAMA (2= 003) 18:2443-2454.
World Health Organization. “Occupational Health: The Workpl= ace.” Geneva WHO. 1997. <http://www.who.int/peh/Occupationa= l_health/occupational_health2.htm>.