While ever-evolving technology has tried to link black lung disease to silica dust, efforts in the past to make a connection have failed. Concurrently, lawmakers who have debated legislation regarding the health crisis have fallen woefully short in regulating the dust over the past several decades.
Exposure to silica occurs when miners cut into sandstone as part of mining for coal, a practice that became more common when mining significant coal deposits left them depleted. That seemingly harmful step results in sharp particles that can be inhaled and permanently stay in the lungs of a miner.
A new study may have provided a once elusive verification that reveals the toxic rock dust’s role in serious and deadly black lung diseases, particularly among those coal miners who plied their trade in Appalachia. Many are referring to it as the primary “driving force.”
Comparing the lungs of current miners exposed to silica dust to their peers working decades ago and testing lung tissue samples for silica concentration, the connection represents a long-awaited “smoking gun” with a pathology pattern consistent with silica. Dangerous substances were more prominent in miners born after 1930 than those born between 1910 and 1930.
The study also verifies a 2018 joint investigation conducted by NPR and PBS’ Frontline. Their findings revealed thousands of massive fibrosis cases, also known as complicated black lung, in five Appalachian states. Alarmingly, many miners in their thirties experienced a rapid progression of the deadly disease.
Research also uncovered the knowledge that federal regulators had over deadly silica levels yet failed to act and left in place outdated regulatory standards that do not account for silica.
The inaction of lawmakers and regulators will only worsen a bad situation with more miners stricken with a disease that, to date, lacks a cure.