Spending the entirety of a career working in coal mines presents serious health risks. Far too many find their ability to continue in their job suddenly at an end following a black lung disease diagnosis.
Awareness of the deadly affliction has forced coal companies to ramp up safety measures to protect these dedicated and hard-working employees. However, data from the Coal Workers Health Surveillance Program (CWHSP) that provides health screening services to miners reveals that those efforts may not be enough.
According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), black lung cases have risen by three percent. Ten percent of coal miners working in mines for at least 25 years were diagnosed with the disease. Central Appalachia – composed of Kentucky, Virginia, and West Virginia – was hardest hit with one in five, representing the largest number in 25 years.
Progressive massive fibrosis (PMF) is the most serious form of black lung disease. It is also experiencing a significant increase from 0.08 percent in the 1990s.
The numbers are particularly alarming considering that the proposition of miners screened for the disease was at its lowest level in the latter part of the 1990s. Researchers believe that evidence of risking diagnoses has been evident since 2000.
Newly implemented protections to stop coal mine dust exposure and identify black lung in early stages is of paramount importance to coal miners in the United States. Medical screenings can better detect and control dust. The recent approval of real-time dust samplers by the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration can make a difference as well.