James Craufurd Gregory and the first case of Coalworker’s Pneumoconiosis

24.01.2017

Professor Ken Donaldson, Honorary Senior Scientist at IOM, gave a talk today at IOM entitled "James Craufurd Gregory and the first case of Coalworker’s Pneumoconiosis".

Here is a short summary of the presentation:

By the mid-19th century about 200,000 miners were employed in the UK coalmining industry, which was still growing with the advance of the Industrial revolution. Coalminers were long known to suffer poor health and a shortened lifespan but the link to inhaling dust in the coalmines had not been made. In a published case report in 1831 Dr James Craufurd Gregory of Edinburgh first described black pigmentation and disease in the lungs of a deceased coalminer and linked the two to pulmonary accumulation of coalmine dust. Gregory hypothesised that the black material seen at autopsy in the collier’s lungs was inhaled coal dust and this was confirmed by chemical analysis carried out by Professor Sir Robert Christison, the Edinburgh physician and toxicologist.  Gregory suggested that the coal dust was the cause of the disease and warned physicians in mining areas to be vigilant for the disease in their patients. The lung on which Gregory based his landmark paper, which has recently been discovered in the pathology collection of the Surgeons Hall Museums, Edinburgh, where it has lain un-noticed for over 180 years. It was examined using modern techniques and found to have the cardinal signs of coalworker’s pneumoconiosis confirming Gregory’s remarkable insight.

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