Black lung among Appalachian coal miners is quite literally worse than ever before.
As today’s data from the federal government shows, severe black lung is being found at a higher rate than even in 1970 when black lung data first started being tracked. Current data shows that 1 in 20 Appalachian coal miners will get severe black lung after a career in the mines.
In addition, a medical practice in Pike County, Kentucky has separately identified a cluster of 60 distinct cases of severe black lung over a year and a half. By comparison, from 1990 to 1999, only 31 cases of severe black lung were identified nationwide. That is, a single doctor has identified twice as much black lung in just a handful of Eastern Kentucky counties as was once identified across the entire country.
“In the last 4 to 5 years, I’ve seen at least a 500% to 600% increase in cases of complicated coal workers’ pneumoconiosis at our office, but this data shows that the scope of the disease is unprecedented and horrendous.” says Wes Addington, Deputy Director at Appalachian Citizens’ Law Center.
The Appalachian Citizens’ Law Center is a nonprofit law firm that fights for justice in the coalfields by representing coal miners and their families in claims for black lung benefits and in mine safety whistleblower cases.
The Mine Safety and Health Administration’s recent dust rule reduced permissible dust levels by 25% and closed some major loopholes that have exposed miners to unsafe dust levels. However, for this change to protect working miners, the law has to be vigilantly enforced.
“The black lung that we see now is the simply the result of coal miners breathing too much dust. This data proves that the dust limits should have been reduced earlier and effective enforcement is needed. The incoming Trump administration should recognize that it should show its support for coal miners and their communities by making our mines truly safe. Black lung is preventable and it should be eliminated.” says Evan Smith, Staff Attorney at Appalachian Citizens’ Law Center.
The coal industry or government should address coal miners’ worries that learning about their health could threaten their ability to continue working in the industry (because they could be retaliated against at work or lose the opportunity for benefits due to a statute of limitations). In the meantime, Appalachian Citizens’ Law Center represents coal miners who have been discriminated against on the job for having black lung or speaking up about safety concerns.
Appalachian Citizens’ Law Center can be reached at (606) 633-3929 and is online at http://www.appalachianlawcenter.org. Wes Addington: firstname.lastname@example.org. Evan Smith: email@example.com