Silicosis belongs to the family of occupational diseases called the pneumoconioses, in which dust in the industrial environment enters the lungs and, over the course of years or decades, deprives the tissues of their functional capacity, saps immune protection, and in many cases kills the victim. In the case of silicosis, the disease agent is silica dust. Deprived of lung function, many victims are too debilitated to continue their jobs or perform daily tasks.

A variety of occupations have been associated with silicosis; any job that exposes workers to fine, powdered quartz crystals places them at risk. The World Health Organization reports that 24,000 Chinese workers died of silicosis each year between 1991 and 1995. Affected workers in one industry in India had an average age ...

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