To date, no cure exists for black lung, an irreversible disease that can progress long after hard-working coal miners have retired. Medical advances continue, but can it keep up with a concerning resurgence of this deadly illness once thought to be almost eliminated not all that long ago?
A combination of technological advances and the foundation established by the 1969 Federal Coal Mine Health and Safety Act saw longtime coal miners’ black lung diagnoses drop from 35 percent to less than five percent from 1970 to around 1995. Those who spent less than a decade in their careers saw instances of black lung fall from three percent to less than one percent.
A deadly resurgence
As the 21st century dawned, so did the resurgence of black lung, particularly in the Central Appalachia states of Kentucky, Virginia, and West Virginia. In fact, a more complex form called progressive massive fibrosis (PMF) emerged that can result in total disability and a significantly shorter life expectancy.
Specific tracking reveals a higher rate since the disease’s documentation started nearly 50 years ago. That trend resulted in more miners seeking care in area clinics combined with a growing number of federal black lung compensation applications.
Cutting-edge medical research moves along. Advances in treatments will continue. Yet, for many coal miners diagnosed with the disease, time is running out. Disability payments and medical coverage help financially. However, the application process is complicated and lengthy, requiring the help of a law firm that devotes its practice to helping coal miners throughout Central Appalachia.