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A surge in black lung diagnoses

On Behalf of | Jul 25, 2022 | Black Lung

The road to ridding the coal mining industry of black lung disease has hit yet another roadblock. University of Illinois-Chicago researchers published their findings in the Annals of the American Thoracic Society. They found lung tissue in the current workforce contains more, not less respirable crystalline silica dust, “deemed a causative agent,” than in previous generations.

The debris is the result of cutting, drilling, and crushing rock and stone, creating silica dust exposure to more than two million workers annually.

Alarming data

The frustrating findings do fill in the blanks regarding a sudden surge in progressive massive fibrosis. Eight-five coal miners stricken with the disease provided lung pathology specimens that were compared with miners born between 1910 and 1930. The contemporary miners suffered a significantly higher proportion of the disease (57 percent) while working in mines for five years less than their predecessors, who accounted for 18 percent.

Research from 2018 revealed that more than 4,600 coal miners had contracted serious black lung disease since 1970, with half being discovered after 2000. Since 2005, cases have tripled, with longtime workers in Virginia, West Virginia, and Kentucky seeing a tenfold increase.

Advancements in equipment may be a driving force with historical miners drilling and blasting. New generations have incorporated more mechanized equipment with high-powered cutting heads that allow them to shear coal from the mine face.

The notion that decades of advancements to protect coal workers result in more diagnoses is troubling at best. Black lung disease serves as a moving target that is hard to pinpoint when it comes to causation and the severity of the illness.