Black Lung is still around.  

This last week the National Public Radio (NPR) collaborated with  PBS investigative series Frontline on an article titled:   “An Epidemic Is Killing Thousands of Coal Miners.  Regulators Could Have Stopped It.”  The multiyear investigation by NPR and Frontline found that these coal miners are part of an unfortunate, tragic, discovered outbreak of black lung disease, known as progressive massive fibrosis.

Ex Coal Miner with Black Lung

Ex Coal Miner with Black Lung, NARA/EPA via pingnews

Beyond mountain roads, deep in Appalachia, the article describes the familiar story of past coal miners, young and old, coughing uncontrollably and packing an oxygen tank on their back.  Children are wondering what is wrong with their rapidly aging parents and grandparents.  The concerned children watch them hack, cough, and spit up dead, black lung tissue onto the ground.  The lung tissue dies so fast that the respiratory therapists describe it as “peeling away.”

NIOSH, unfortunately, is seeing some trends in the extensive spread of coal workers’ pneumoconiosis (CWP, commonly called Black Lung).

The investigation suggests that for decades, the government regulators had evidence of excessive and toxic mine dust exposures but did nothing about it.

Thousands of cases of Black Lung are being reported to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH).

Yes.  It is 2019.  Black Lung should not be an occupational health problem in this time period.

According to Dr. Robert Cohen, a pulmonologist at the University of Illinois in Chicago, “the advanced stage of black lung leaves lungs crusty and useless.”  He has spent decades studying black lung and other lung diseases.

They’re essentially suffocating while alive.

The airborne poison that triggers serious condition isn’t coal mine dust alone. It consists of respirable crystalline silica, dangerous dust that is generated when miners reduced sandstone as they mine coal. Coal seams in central Appalachia are ingrained in sandstone which contains quartz; therefore when mining techniques reduce quartz, it produces respirable crystalline silica.  The silica is inhaled deep into the lungs where it is lodged permanently.

Miners Waiting for Their Examination at the Appalachian Regional Hospital in Beckley, West Virginia, U.S. National Archives and Records Administration

This excessive exposure to respirable crystalline silica almost certainly happened more often than the data suggests. Respirable crystalline silica sampling takes place during regular inspections, which are scheduled twice a year in surface mines and four times a year in underground mines.

The sampling should be occurring over 8 hours according to the OSHA Respirable Crystalline Silica Standard.

Related article:  OSHA Publishes Silica Standard FAQ

Most of the sick and dying miners that were interviewed used dust masks and said they often didn’t work.  With real-time monitoring of respirable crystalline silica masks only need to be worn during high levels of silica.  By analyzing minute particles, a dangerous level can be determined, and miners do not have to wear a mask all the time.

Have your employees wear a real-time DustCount 8899 – Respirable Dust Monitor – Click Here to Learn More

This investigation is a sad case of human illness that might have been prevented with adequate safety measure and monitoring.


An Epidemic Is Killing Thousands Of Coal Miners … (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.capradio.org/news/npr/story?storyid=675253856

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