Friday, June 03, 2011

Black lung disease is back with a vengence

Living on Earth on May 27, 2011 presented a sobering story on a highly aggressive form of black lung, or coal workers’ pneumoconiosis, saying "An investigation into last year’s [Massey Energy's Upper Big Branch] coal mine disaster in West Virginia reveals a tragedy within a tragedy: autopsies show most of the men who died in the explosion also had black lung."  The prevalence of black lung had been declining since the 1970s, due to stricter regulations governing the amount of coal dust permitted in active work areas. "Lax enforcement and monitoring of dust" are considered likely contributors to the increased incidence and severity of black lung, coupled with changes in mining practice that result in more silica dust as well as coal dust in smaller, confined areas.

The Government Accountability Office in 2008 found that 87% of miners' claims for disability benefits due to black lung were initially denied (Black Lung Benefits Program, report to U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Health Care, Committee on Finance).

Ironically, Senate Hearing 110-527 [Coal: a Clean Future] does not once mention black lung in its 252 pages (hearing before the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Energy, Natural Resources, and Infrastructure, Committee on Finance).  The "clean future" does not, apparently, include miners' lungs -- or the environment around coal mining sites.

More about --
Black lung:  National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH)
Massey's denial of culpability for the disaster: Wall Street Journal, June 3.
Mountain top removal for coal extraction.

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