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Disease from Irritant Dusts



Some dusts are exceedingly irritating to the bronchial passages and to the minute vesicular structure of the lung without being actually cutting dusts. They are removed, in part, with the se cretions, by the action of the beautiful ciliary apparatus which lines the mucous surface, and which wafting back the small par ticles of dust towards the throat, saves the lungs from injury, until, in fact, its own motion is impaired, or until it is overcome or destroyed by the actual weight of irritating material which is imposed upon it.

The dusts which may be included as irritant dusts are mechan ically suspended in the air. They are common in work-rooms of persons engaged in a considerable number of industrial occupa tions, and are the causes of a large amount of suffering.

Disease from, Wood and Ivory Dusts.

The dusts of some kinds of wood, to which turners of wood and cutters of wood are exposed, are causes of much irritation of the lungs, and of bronchial cough. The dust of wood is fine and penetrating, and when derived from colored wood imparts its own color to the bronchial secretion. I have seen severe phenomena of disease induced in mahogany carvers, and in those who turn ornaments for couches and other articles of furniture. The work gives rise to a great quantity of wood dust, which is freely in haled. In turning, the artisan has to keep up a blowing process with the lips in order to blow away the small portions of wood which he removes with the tool. This process is wearying, but the chief complaint made by the worker is of the dust he draws back in inhalation. The mischief is greatly increased in the rooms where the ventilation is imperfect. Cough, usually at tended with copious secretion from the bronchial tubes, is set up, and I have more than once known the accompanying expectora tion from this cause to be so free as to induce symptoms of wast ing and exhaustion allied to phthisis pulmonalis, and constituting what has been called bronchial phthisis. As a rule, however, those who suffer from this form of disease get well when they are removed from their occupation and are placed under favorable circumstances for recovery.

These same observations extend to the phenomena observed as resulting from ivory dust, but I do not think I have ever seen in ivory turners or carvers symptoms equally severe with those that are presented by the artisans in wood.

Disease from Hair Dust.

Dr. Cholmeley has observed a peculiar bronchial irritation brought on in the carrying out of a comparatively new industry, namely, that of hair-brushing by machinery. The fine particles of hair carried off by the brush in its rapid revolutions give an atmosphere of dust which is extremely irritating, and which is carried into the face of the operator. Dr. Cholmeley has known three hair-dressers who have been obliged to leave their occupa tion, owing to the injuries that have been inflicted upon them from this cause. The wig-makers and hair-dressers are, as I have myself observed, subjected to a similar danger. The unhealthi ness of all the occupations is shown by the rate of mortality in those who follow them. From the age of twenty-five onwards, the mortality of hair-dressers is one hundred and twenty-seven to one hundred of persons following seventy other occupations.

Disease from Cotton, Flax, and Hemp Dust.

The fine particles derived from cotton, flax, and hemp are irritating dusts, and, as we shall see, are different in their action from the dusts of wool and silk. The cotton flue produces bron chial irritation, but the worst injury results from the dust of hemp during the process of dressing it. The quantity of dust lost in hemp-dressing may be inferred from the fact that for every one hundred and twelve pounds weight of hemp employed there is a loss of four pounds. This dust produces a severe bronchial irritation, attended with painful expectoration and strangling cough. Russian and Polish hemp produce these effects most intensely. Neapolitan hemp does the same, and something more. In the dust of the Neapolitan hemp there is distributed a peculiar odorous substance, the dust of some vegetable or grass, the inhalation of which causes shortness of breath, constriction of the throat, and spasmodic cough in recurring paroxysms which continue for many hours after the inhalation ceases. For the sake of experience I obtained a specimen of this hemp, and, after shaking it in a large bottle, I inhaled the dust. The symptoms induced were immediate. They resembled almost completely the symptoms of the disease known as "hay fever." I was unable by any examination of the hemp, microscopical or chemical, to detect the specific agent that was at work. Even dressing the hemp does not remove this substance, for the symptoms are common to the spinners of the hemp after it is dressed, although they may work in the open air.

The dust from flax dressing, which is in fact but a continu ance of the hemp process on a finer material, is equally irritating, and the loss of flue in flax work is nearly the same as in the preparation of hemp. The ordinary symptoms produced by the dust of the hemp, and which are felt by the spinners as well as the dressers, are those of bronchial cough. The cough is not alike in all. In some it is dry and husky, in others it is a loose cough, with profuse secretion. One worker in this business, who had been engaged in dressing flax for thirty years, twelve years in the country and eighteen years in London, told me he had never met with a single fellow-workman who had not suffered more or less from this irritation; but that those who worked in the country suffered much less than those who worked in London. He had known a few who had lived to a fair old age. The work he considered to be much more easily carried on in warm and dry than in damp and cold weather. He had himself been a sufferer from the commencement of his business, and had been obliged, temporarily, to leave his employment on several occasions.

The condition of flax-workers continues still very unsatisfac tory. Dr. Purdon of Belfast, one of the certifying surgeons under the Factory Act, reports, concerning the carders in the flax-working factories under his observation, that when a girl under eighteen years gets a card, she very rarely lives beyond her thirtieth year if she keeps steadily at her occupation. She dies, as a rule, from consumption of the lungs.

Disease front Rag Dust.

In my Journal of Public Health for January, 1s59, Mr. J. Jardine Murray, then of Edinburgh, and now of Brighton, re ported a very valuable inquiry bearing on the health of those who work among rags, those who in " the inferior streets and alleys of the metropolis put out the tawdry stump doll, or the dirty bunch of parti-colored ribbons over the signboard, to indicate that the keeper of the dingy store is ever ready to give the highest price for all descriptions of rags and bones." Mr. Murray expected, very naturally, that he should find amongst the workers in these tattered and filthy stores some suf fering from contagion, others from the products of decay of the animal and vegetable constituents of the rags, others from inhaling and swallowing dust. An inquiry made by him at twenty-three paper-mills to which rags were sent, and of twenty-three rag col lectors in Edinburgh, led to the curious return, that epidemic or contagious disease from this source was practically unknown amongst workers in that there was no evidence of disease from the decomposition of the rags or the organic matter and dirt npon them, but that some workers suffered from bronchial affections, cough and shortness of breath, due to inhaling the dust which is cast off in large quantities from the rags when they are made to revolve in the wire-cloth cylinder to free them from dust.

dust, hemp, wood, bronchial, cough, rags and symptoms