In spite of nationwide efforts to increase safety while reducing the inhalation of coal dust, black lung, formally known as coal worker’s pneumoconiosis, has made a resurgence in the past several years. Even the powerful Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) safety standards to prevent miners from contracting the disease seem to be falling short.
Far too many workers who have plied their trade for years through hard work and dedication are forced to retire, not with a gold watch, but with a disease that is slowly killing them.
Black lung’s tragic facts
- Sixteen percent of coal workers are diagnosed with black lung, with the total number on the increase over time
- Approximately 1,000 miners die from black lung disease annually, a statistic that is also rising
- Black lung is among 200 forms of pulmonary fibrosis in the category of interstitial lung diseases
- No cure exists, yet treatments continue to evolve in an attempt to lengthen coal miners’ lives
The increase in cases has been linked to significant changes in mining technology. Larger coal volumes are extracted in a specific amount of time. Experts assert that it causes mineral content changes in the coal that only increase the hazards created by dust that miners are exposed to on a daily basis. Simply put, the so-called progress occurring in the mines is creating a hazardous work environment.
Advancements made by medical experts should not be undone by changes in how coal is extracted or the amount of coal dust deemed “acceptable.” Both entities should have the same goal. One should not undermine the other. The end result will be more diagnoses and deaths caused by unhealthy work settings.
Perhaps the only thing that remains healthy in the coal industry is the mine owners’ bottom lines.