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Characterizing lung particulates using quantitative microscopy in coal miners with severe pneumoconiosis

June 1, 2023

Current approaches for characterizing retained lung dust using pathologists' qualitative assessment or scanning electron microscopy with energy-dispersive spectroscopy (SEM/EDS) have limitations.


To explore polarized light microscopy coupled with image-processing software, termed quantitative microscopy–particulate matter (QM-PM), as a tool to characterize in situ dust in lung tissue of US coal miners with progressive massive fibrosis.


We developed a standardized protocol using microscopy images to characterize the in situ burden of birefringent crystalline silica/silicate particles (mineral density) and carbonaceous particles (pigment fraction). Mineral density and pigment fraction were compared with pathologists' qualitative assessments and SEM/EDS analyses. Particle features were compared between historical (born before 1930) and contemporary coal miners, who likely had different exposures following changes in mining technology.


Lung tissue samples from 85 coal miners (62 historical and 23 contemporary) and 10 healthy controls were analyzed using QM-PM. Mineral density and pigment fraction measurements with QM-PM were comparable to consensus pathologists' scoring and SEM/EDS analyses. Contemporary miners had greater mineral density than historical miners (186 456 versus 63 727/mm3; P = .02) and controls (4542/mm3), consistent with higher amounts of silica/silicate dust. Contemporary and historical miners had similar particle sizes (median area, 1.00 versus 1.14 μm2; P = .46) and birefringence under polarized light (median grayscale brightness: 80.9 versus 87.6; P = .29).


QM-PM reliably characterizes in situ silica/silicate and carbonaceous particles in a reproducible, automated, accessible, and time/cost/labor-efficient manner, and shows promise as a tool for understanding occupational lung pathology and targeting exposure controls.

Publication Year 2024
Title Characterizing lung particulates using quantitative microscopy in coal miners with severe pneumoconiosis
DOI 10.5858/arpa.2022-0427-OA
Authors Jeremy T. Hua, Carlyne D. Cool, Heather A. Lowers, Leonard H. T. Go, Lauren M. Zell-Baran, Emily A. Sarver, Kirsten S. Almberg, Kathy D. Pang, Susan M. Majka, Angela D. Franko, Naseema I. Vorajee, Robert A. Cohen, Cecil S. Rose
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Archives of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine
Index ID 70244148
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Geology, Geophysics, and Geochemistry Science Center