A study in the June issue of the American Journal of Industrial Medicine highlights the risk of asthma among African-American, male construction workers.

The new study is an analysis of data collected in 2001 from 20,991 working men and women. Of these, 6.5 percent reported having been diagnosed with asthma. Extrapolated nationally among the nation’s 133 million adult workers, that comes to 8.6 million individuals with asthma.

Alternate description

LIUNA General Secretary-Treasurer and LHSFNA Labor Co-Chairman
Armand E. Sabitoni

“The new analysis is helpful,” says LIUNA General Secretary Treasurer, New England Regional Manager and LHSFNA Labor Co-Chairman Armand E. Sabitoni, “because it breaks down the total number of asthma sufferers by occupation, gender and race. In construction, African-American men appear to be most at-risk.”

According to the American Thoracic Society, as much as 15 percent of all adult cases of asthma may be related to workplace exposures, a total of 1.3 million cases.

The data show that African-American, male workers in construction are five times more likely to have asthma than their peers in other industries. The rate for African-American men in construction was just as high as for African-American men in the chemical industry and 25 percent higher than their peers in durable goods; furniture, lumber and wood; and eating and drinking establishments, other industries with high rates of asthma.

The report’s authors speculated that formaldehyde or wood dust could be the culprit among wood products workers. They offered no opinion about what might cause the high rates of asthma among construction workers, but, in addition to hazardous chemicals on some sites, dust exposure – including dust containing silica – is a common construction problem.

Generally, asthma is most prevalent among whites and females, and among workers at automobile dealers, gasoline stations and those in the durable goods field. Explaining the fact that African-American men in construction appear to have a higher rate of asthma than whites or women in construction will require more research and analysis.

Asthma is a disease of the lungs in which the airways become blocked or narrowed, making breathing difficult. No cure is known, but with proper disease management, most asthma sufferers can lead healthy, active lives.

The basis for asthma is genetic, and it is passed from one generation to the next. However, not everyone with the genetic basis actually develops the disease. For each individual, there appears to be a triggering substance or event that “causes” the actual disease onset or its particular episodes. Common triggers include molds, pollens, pet dander, foods, smoke, fumes, odors, respiratory infections, exercise, weather conditions, medications or strong emotional expressions.

More information about asthma is available at the Asthma and Allergy Foundation or at the National Institutes of Health.

[Steve Clark]