Black lung is a deadly disease that results from coal miners plying their trade in dangerous settings. Over time, safety initiatives have reduced the chance of contracting the disease. However, a combination of inaction and lack of funding for those suffering from the disease has made a bad situation worse.
Due to the Coronavirus pandemic, black lung clinics were unable to have their annual conference at the Pipestone Resort in southern West Virginia. For the first time in three years, in 2022 the forum returned. It featured the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) announcing new steps to reduce silica dust in coal mines, a substance directly connected to black lung disease for miners.
The initiative follows new findings by researchers who found a definitive link between silica exposure and black lung disease in today’s miners. In fact, contemporary workers suffered from a significantly higher concentration compared to workers in the past. Silica particles were more than 50 percent increased when certain factors were present.
In response, the MSHA requested a change in the standard governing silica exposure rules. Instead of 100 micrograms per cubic centimeters, the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has cut that number in half.
Even with increased optimism about the recognition of how dangerous silica exposure can be still comes pessimism. Despite continued efforts to curb the deadly dust, black lung cases continued to grow. Perhaps more alarming is the growing number of younger miners diagnosed with the life-changing disease. Some are developing black lung while still in their twenties, many beginning their careers in the previous decade.
Meanwhile, the Black Lung Disability Trust Fund remains deep in debt. Adding to the problem is the expiration of an excise tax at the end of 2021. Congress has yet to take action.