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UCL Culture Blog


News and musings from the UCL Culture team


Specimen of the Week 373: Coal worker’s pneumoconiosis

By Subhadra Das, on 11 January 2019

Today’s specimen of the week comes from UCL Pathology Collections. The Collections are displayed at the UCL Pathology Museum at the Royal Free Campus of the UCL Medical School in Hampstead. The museum includes a medical teaching collection of nearly 3,000 specimens of human remains illustrating the history of disease. To open up these specialist medical displays to a wider audience, we’ve developed a trail of 10 specimens of well known diseases. As the museum only opens to the public for special events, we’re sharing the trail as part of the Specimen of the Week series.

All of the entries for the UCL Pathology Collections Top 10 Medical Trail have been written by Nazli Pulatmen, who worked with us for her MA Museum Studies placement in the summer of 2018.

This week’s specimen is a lung belonging to a person who worked in soft coal mines in Wales for almost 50 years and died aged 62 from haemoptysis – coughing up blood in laymen’s terms.

A cross-section of human lung showing coal worker’s pneumoconiosis tuberculosis

LDUCPC-RFH.J32.1 Lung in coal worker’s pneumoconiosis tuberculosis

This lung demonstrates the type of damage that continuous inhalation of coal dust causes to the respiratory system, the effects of which are extremely well documented in people within the mining profession. This condition, commonly known as coal miner’s lung, remains a major occupational hazard for people working in mines and agriculture today. This is especially the case in regions of the world where worker’s safety is not regulated or prioritised. The patient from whom this lung was taken received a 100% disability pension for the three years between their retirement and death.

In the UK today, mining is an industry in steep decline, with the last deep coal mine closing in 2015. Open cast mines remain in operation but with strict health and safety regulations to protect workers from developing health problems as a result of their occupation.  The condition of this specimen reminds us of the importance of worker’s rights and is a testament to the damage caused by coalmining – both to the people working in them, and to the environment at large. Whilst coal production and consumption are declining in the UK, many countries around the world continue to rely on coal for energy. Remembering the dangerous nature of this industry, demonstrated in the untimely death of the patient from whom this lung was taken, is especially important today as influential people, like the current President of the United States, are becoming increasingly vocal about their desires to restore the mining industry to its twentieth-century heyday.


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