ACLC Clients William McCool and Michael Wilson were prominently featured in Maya Wei-Haas’s in-depth article for Smithsonian.com about the deadly resurgence of black lung disease in the United States. Some excerpts from the story:
Black lung ultimately leaves its victims gasping for every breath. “You’d do anything to get some air,” says McCool. Before he got on oxygen, he had what he called “breathing attacks,” which he says feel similar to panic attacks. Once, McCool had an attack so severe that he got out of bed and headed outside, thinking it would be easier to breathe in the fresh night air. But he found no relief. “It didn’t help,” he says.
Wilson, who was featured in a Huffington Post profile last year. is still in the early stages of his disease. His condition has worsened since 2012, and doctors predict his lungs will continue to degrade. He currently uses an inhaler to help him breathe, but he says he can’t afford the oxygen that would soothe the cough that flares at night. When asked how he planned to address his disease’s progression, he laughed drily.
“There ain’t no cure for it,” he said. “It’s just like a cancer. It just keeps eating.”
“The sad part is it is all preventable,” says Addington, who has represented McCool in his ongoing fight for black lung benefits. “This is a disease of the early 20th century not the early 21st century.”
So why is it still happening? And why is it striking miners earlier—and more intensely—than ever before?