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What’s causing the surge in black lung disease?

Since the 1970s, safety officials have worked to reduce the respiratory diseases caused by inhaling coal mine dust that were all too common among miners and known collectively as black lung disease. As the 21st century began, instances of black lung disease were at a record low.

However, troubling reports from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) indicate a surge among black lung among miners, particularly younger ones. NIOSH epidemiologists found over 400 cases of progressive massive fibrosis, a complicated form of black lung disease, between 2013 and 2017 in three clinics. These clinics treat miners in West Virginia, Virginia and Kentucky.

The surge in the instances of black lung was discovered after the head of one of these clinics reported a rise in the number of cases they were seeing and asked researchers to help determine just how widespread the problem was. Since the survey was completed, those three clinics have diagnosed more than 150 additional miners with the disease.

An epidemiologist with NIOSH says, “This is the largest cluster of progressive massive fibrosis ever reported in the scientific literature.”

Other surveys, including one by National Public Radio (NPR) have looked at the number of cases of black lung and why they are increasing. Some experts say one factor is that miners are working longer shifts. They’re also mining thinner seams. The dust produced by these seams has more silica, which is particularly irritating to the lungs.

So what’s the future for the health and safety of the roughly 50,000 people who work in America’s coal mines? New regulations were fully implemented during the Obama administration in 2016. President Trump has ordered that these coal mining regulations be reviewed.

A diagnosis of black lung is life-altering. If you or a loved one is suffering from the disease, it may be wise to determine what your options for compensation are. An experienced West Virginia workers’ compensation attorney can provide important information and guidance.

Source:, “Study Uncovers Startling Number of Black Lung Cases in Coal Miners,” Marissa Fessenden, accessed March 08, 2018


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