Report finds black lung disease is underreported

November 24, 2015

New analysis of the frequency of black lung disease among coal miners found that the disease is seriously underreported.

The Lexington Kentucky Herald reported that the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) has received 112 cases from coal companies in Kentucky since 2010 even though miners in the state were awarded benefits in 1,442 initial claims to the federal black-lung fund during the same period, the agency said.

MSHA chief Joe Main said the numbers indicate the debilitating disease is more prevalent than reported by his agency, which is charged with protecting miners, or by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), which provides X-rays for miners.
“We know there are some big holes here,” said Main.

Main said MSHA was trying to figure out the reason for the differences in black-lung numbers among federal agencies.

The disease has been the primary or contributing cause of death for more than 76,000 miners since 1968, costing the government $45 billion in benefits to miners and their families.

More than 40 percent of longtime miners in some regions got black lung before Congress approved rules in 1969 limiting underground miners' exposure to coal dust.

The prevalence of the disease dropped sharply afterward, reaching 2 percent in screenings conducted from 1995 to 1999, according NIOSH.
But since then, the prevalence of the disease has rebounded. In Eastern Kentucky, for instance, 9 percent of all miners screened in one NIOSH program from 2005 through 2009 had the disease.

And in 2014, NIOSH researchers reported that the most deadly form of the disease, progressive massive fibrosis, had spiked to the worst level in 40 years.

Researchers have identified a number of possible factors for the upswing, including miners working longer shifts, meaning longer exposure to dust; more mining of thinner coal seams in Central Appalachia, which requires cutting through more rock; inadequate dust-control rules; and failure by coal companies to comply with the rules.

MSHA took a fresh look at black-lung statistics after a newsletter called Mine Safety Health and News reported last month on differing numbers at the agency and NIOSH.

To read the full article from the Lexington Kentucky Herald, click here.


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