Black lung hits a 25-year high in Central Appalachia

Published 5:54 am Wednesday, July 25, 2018

One in five coal miners in Kentucky, Virginia and West Virginia who have worked at least 25 years has black-lung disease, according to a new study from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. That’s the highest reported rate in a quarter-century.

“We can think of no other industry or workplace in the United States in which this would be considered acceptable,” NIOSH epidemiologist Cara Halldin and her colleagues wrote in the American Journal of Public Health.

“The study’s researchers reviewed nearly 50 years of coal miner X-rays taken as part of a national NIOSH effort to identify disease among working coal miners. They compared the last five years of X-rays with those taken earlier,” Howard Berkes reports for NPR. “In addition to the heightened rates of disease, the study found that the most severe form of disease – progressive massive fibrosis – now occurs in 5 percent of veteran miners in the region, the highest rate ever recorded.”

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A former federal mine-safety regulator, Celeste Monforton of Texas State University, told Berkes that the study proved that underground-mine regulations and their enforcement are not rigorous enough. A spokesperson for the National Mining Association called the study “troubling” but noted that stricter dust-exposure standards were enacted only two years ago by the Mine Safety and Health Administration. Some mine operators have been accused of ducking those rules.

The Rural Blog is published by the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues.