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Lung Disease Proves Top Occupational Killer
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A lung disease common among workers in the mining and cement industries is the nation's top occupational killer, according to the latest government statistics.

Since the 1950s, a total of 677,000 people have been diagnosed with occupational diseases, more than 90 percent of which were pneumoconiosis cases, said Su Zhi, an official with the Ministry of Health.

Excluding Shaanxi and Tibet, 11,000 new occupational disease cases were reported last year, with pneumoconiosis accounting for 76 percent, Su said.

"The proportion of pneumoconiosis cases was 1.44 percentage points higher than in 2005 and the latency period of the disease was shorter," he said.

Miners and cement industry workers develop pneumoconiosis by breathing in coal and cement dust. The disease may take several decades to manifest itself, but it is deadly, said Li Tao, an official with the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

According to Su, 23 percent of pneumoconiosis cases had latent periods of less than 10 years.

He said the coal mining, non-ferrous metal miners and construction industries were the three most dangerous, causing 41 percent, 13 percent and 6.5 percent of total work-related illnesses last year.

He also noted that 621 pneumoconiosis cases reported last year were found to involve workers under the age of 18.

The ministry vowed to strengthen supervision of coal mining, as well as pharmacy and pesticide production this year, hoping to bring millions of migrant workers exposed to the risk of occupational disease into the health care network.

Apart from lung disease, coal mine accidents kill 17 workers every day on average in China, a fatality rate much higher than in India, for example.

(Xinhua News Agency May 1, 2007)

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