Newspaper article Charleston Gazette Mail

NIOSH REPORT ; Black Lung Getting Worse

Newspaper article Charleston Gazette Mail

NIOSH REPORT ; Black Lung Getting Worse

Article excerpt

A resurgence of the most advanced and deadly form of black lung disease appears to be far worse than had been originally reported, according to a new government scientific report and an investigation by National Public Radio. Researchers from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health said in their new report that they found a significant pocket of the Progressive Massive Fibrosis, or PMF, at one clinic in Eastern Kentucky, a finding that shows weaknesses in the way the government counts black lung and indicates the true extent of the coalfield health crisis isn't fully understood.

"The actual extent of PMF in U.S. coal miners remains unclear, said the report, published in Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, a journal from NIOSH's parent agency, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.

NIOSH's new paper was published online Thursday, just hours before NPR broadcast and posted online the findings of an investigation by correspondent Howard Berkes, whose reporting identified nearly 1,000 cases of PMF in the last decade, 10 times the most recent count from NIOSH. NPR documented 962 cases of the disease in miners at 11 black lung clinics in Virginia, West Virginia, Pennsylvania and Ohio.

Some of the clinics included in the NPR project had only partial data, so the actual extent of the disease is likely higher.

The results of the NIOSH paper and the NPR investigation are the latest in a series of alarming findings that show the most serious form of black lung - a disease once thought to be largely eliminated or at least in serious decline - has come roaring back, especially in parts of the Appalachian coalfields.

While a new U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration rule was touted by the Obama administration as an effort to "End Black Lung Now, any real reforms to save miners from the deadly disease suffered a more than quarter-century of setbacks as lawmakers and regulators from both administrations failed to act on longstanding recommendations from worker health advocates.

"The current numbers are unprecedented by any historical standard, NIOSH epidemiologist Scott Laney, a co-author of the agency's paper, told NPR. "We had not seen cases of this magnitude ever before in history in central Appalachia. The number of cases that we were seeing ... far exceeds anything that we were aware of.

Black lung, or coal workers' pneumoconiosis, is actually a collection of debilitating and often fatal ailments caused by breathing too much coal dust. Miners inhale tiny particles that are released into the air by coal-cutting machines. As the dust collects over time, lungs become black, scarred and shriveled. Miners often develop a cough, or shortness of breath. Frequently, as the most serious and fatal forms of the disease progress, miners have to fight for every breath.

In 1969, when it passed landmark mine safety legislation, Congress made eliminating black lung a national goal. …

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