Black Lung

Black lung is a deadly disease caused by exposure to dust underground.
Department of Labor

A bipartisan group of U.S. Senators have introduced a provision that aims to boost participation in black lung detection programs.

Virginia Democrat Sen. Mark Warner introduced the amendment Wednesday into the defense, labor, health and education spending package that is being debated on the Senate floor.

If passed, the provision would require the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health or NIOSH to create a report for Congress within 180 days detailing how to increase participation in black lung screening programs.

One in five working coal miners in central Appalachia who have worked at least 25 years now suffer from the coal miners' disease black lung. That's the finding from the latest study tracking an epidemic of the incurable and fatal sickness.

Federal Prosecutor Charges Coal Company With Faking Dust Samples Amid Black Lung Surge

Jul 11, 2018
An X-ray image of an Appalachian coal miner with black lung lesions.
Adelina Lancianese / NPR

The U.S. Attorney for Kentucky’s Western District unsealed eight fraud indictments Wednesday against employees of the bankrupt Armstrong Energy coal company for falsifying dust monitoring samples in two Kentucky mines.

Adelina Lancianese / NPR

A new report from the National Academy of Sciences says the coal mining industry needs a “fundamental shift” in the way it controls exposure to coal and rock dust in order to prevent lung disease among miners.

Benny Becker / Ohio Valley Resource

A new study from the Government Accountability Office finds that the federal fund supporting coal miners with black lung disease could be in financial trouble without Congressional action. As NPR has reported, the GAO found that the fund’s debt could rise dramatically at the same time that black lung disease is surging.

A new government report says that the federal black lung trust fund that helps sick and dying coal miners pay living and medical expenses could incur a $15 billion deficit in the next 30 years. That's if a congressionally mandated funding cut occurs as planned at the end of the year.

West Virginia Morning
West Virginia Public Broadcasting

In a state like West Virginia, where the economy is so deeply connected with the ebb and flow of the coal industry, discussions about climate change are often avoided.

In a recent episode of West Virginia Public Broadcasting’s Us & Them podcast, host Trey Kay speaks with Katharine Hayhoe. In 2014, Time magazine named Hayhoe one of the 100 Most Influential People because she’s one of the world’s leading climate scientists and a life-long evangelical Christian who’s willing to tackle the hot button topic of climate change.

Mackie Branham views a lung X-ray with Dr. James Brandon Crum, who was among the first physicians to note an uptick in black lung diagnoses
Howard Berkes / NPR

The American College of Radiologists, a professional organization representing radiologists, is asking Kentucky to repeal a new law that changes how coal miners receive benefits for black lung disease.

Rural medical clinics that are struggling to respond to an epidemic of a fatal lung disease plaguing coal miners received a 40 percent boost in federal funding with the passage of the omnibus spending bill last week.

Timothy D. Easley / Associated Press file photo

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, or NIOSH, is providing free Black Lung exams in four West Virginia towns.

NIOSH’s Mobile Occupational Safety and Health Units will set up in Ceredo in Wayne County, Delbarton in Mingo County, and Man and Logan in Logan County.

WVU

The Center for Disease Control’s National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health released a study on the largest cluster of complicated black lung cases ever reported. Kara Lofton spoke with WVU School of Public Health physicians Carl Werntz and Anna Allen about the study and what it means for West Virginia.

ALLEN: We actually have been noticing this trend over the last, about 18 years, that it has been going back up. And I think this might have just been the study that captured it in a, in the big picture.

March 14, 1974: Dr. I. E. Buff Dies at 65

Mar 14, 2018
Dr. I. E. Buff
University of Virginia Library

Dr. I. E. Buff died in Charleston on March 14, 1974, at age 65. Buff was the first physician to protest publicly that many coal miners’ deaths were inaccurately being labeled as heart attacks.

He argued that the coronaries were being caused by a widespread disease known commonly as black lung. He suggested that as many as half of West Virginia’s 40,000 miners suffered from black lung.

Benny Becker/ WMMT

For many years we thought that black lung was a disease of the past. But it has actually stricken a whole new generation of miners, and in some ways, it’s worse than before. 

Edward Brown and Jerry Helton are both struggling with black lung disease.
Adelina Lancianese, photos; Alexandra Kanik, illustration.

The central Appalachian coalfields are in the middle of an unprecedented epidemic of severe black lung disease. In a recent issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association federal researchers released the results of a study conducted at just three black lung clinics. The study confirmed 416 cases of the most severe form of black lung disease, Progressive Massive Fibrosis.

West Virginia Morning
West Virginia Public Broadcasting

On this West Virginia Morning, the central Appalachian coalfields are in the middle of an unprecedented epidemic of severe black lung disease. A recent medical study confirmed a cluster of more than 400 cases of the most severe form of black lung at just a few clinics, and an investigation by NPR and the Ohio Valley ReSource identified nearly 2,000 cases across Kentucky, Virginia and West Virginia. The condition, caused by coal mine dust, is often debilitating and deadly. Reporter Benny Becker brings us the stories of two men struggling with the disease.

Updated on Feb. 6 at 3:49 p.m. ET

Epidemiologists at the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health say they've identified the largest cluster of advanced black lung disease ever reported, a cluster that was first uncovered by NPR 14 months ago.

Burned By Coal: Coalfield Communities Facing Electricity Price Hikes

Dec 23, 2017
Kentucky Power customers expressed frustration with proposed rate increases.
Mimi Pickering / WMMT

One evening this past November, angry customers and public officials filled a high school auditorium in Hazard, Kentucky, and took turns pleading with three members of the state’s public service commission.

Angie Hatton, a state legislator representing Letcher and Pike counties, presented the situation in historical terms. “This community that for two centuries has been powering our nation, we’re now struggling to keep our own lights on.”

David Golman / AP Photo

President Donald Trump's mining regulators are reconsidering rules meant to protect underground miners from breathing coal and rock dust -- the cause of black lung -- and diesel exhaust, which can cause cancer.

Benny Becker

Back in March, Inside Appalachia aired a report about a rise in the number of chronic black lung cases. Since then, NPR’s ongoing investigation uncovered an additional 1,000 cases of the worst form of black lung disease in Appalachia. 

Black lung is a deadly disease caused by exposure to dust underground.
Department of Labor

West Virginia's U.S. senators say the state will get almost $1.3 million in federal funding for its clinics program to treat black lung disease that afflicts thousands of coal miners who inhaled dust from the rock and coal.

According to West Virginia's health commissioner Dr. Rahul Gupta, more than 7,900 residents get services from nine clinics across the state.

Black Lung Update: Federal Researchers Seek Allies in Appalachia

Apr 5, 2017
Researchers present findings on the return of black lung disease.
Benny Becker / Ohio Valley ReSource

Federal health researchers are visiting health clinics and medical schools in the Appalachian coalfields to recruit allies in the fight a resurgence of black lung disease. The worst form of the disease may affect as much as 5 percent of experienced working miners in the region, and the researchers fear that rate could be even higher among retired miners.

Budget Bills Up For A Vote In House And Senate

Apr 5, 2017
West Virginia Morning
West Virginia Public Broadcasting

On West Virginia Morning, the lead sponsor of the senate bill to legalize medical marijuana says he will accept all the changes the house made to the bill and today’s a big day at the legislature.  Both chambers will vote on their budget bills.

That’s on West Virginia Morning from West Virginia Public Broadcasting – telling West Virginia’s story.

Jessica Lilly

Coal mining has touched so many aspects of life in Appalachia. The coal industry has provided more than just jobs — it’s helped build towns, bridges and it’s even provided money for many Appalachians to go to college. We also have a deep cultural connection to coal and its history.

Still, there’s no denying the coal industry has changed the landscape of our mountains, and infected many miners with a deadly disease known as black lung.

Adobe Stock

Two U.S. House committees have approved a Republican proposal to replace the Affordable Care Act.  Critics of the law say it will raise premiums and cause millions to lose health coverage.

The House bill does, however, preserve an amendment written into the Affordable Care Act that makes it easier for coal miners with black lung disease to qualify for compensation benefits.

e-wv, The West Virginia Encyclopedia / via Charleston Newspapers

On February 24, 1928, physician Donald Rasmussen was born in Colorado. In 1962, he moved to Beckley to work at Miners Memorial Hospital.

He quickly observed that many coal miners were suffering from severe breathing problems. As a result, he began dedicating a good portion of his time to studying black lung disease.

Kara Lofton / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

At the Pulmonary Rehabilitation Clinic in Scarbro, oxygen tubes dangle from the noses of three miners slowly pedaling on stationary bikes.  All of these men have black lung – a disease caused by breathing in coal dust. Over time, the dust coats the lungs and causes them to harden. Hard lungs don’t easily expand and contract, and that makes it difficult to breath.

West Virginia Morning
West Virginia Public Broadcasting

On West Virginia Morning, Appalachia Health News reporter Kara Lofton looks at the Affordable Care Act and how the law makes it easier for coal miners to receive black lung benefits and Clark Davis talks with Huntington native Griffin McElroy who’s been named to Forbes 30 Under 30 list for media.

That’s on West Virginia Morning from West Virginia Public Broadcasting – telling West Virginia’s story.

The Branham Family
Benny Becker / Ohio Valley ReSource

At the age of 38, a coal miner named Mackie Branham Jr. was diagnosed with progressive massive fibrosis, a debilitating and terminal form of an illness that was supposed to be a disease of the past — black lung. But Branham is among many the miners afflicted by a resurgence in the disease, and officials are just beginning to realize the scope of the problem. A review of health clinic records shows roughly a thousand such cases, many times more than federal officials had thought existed.

Tom Williams / Getty Images

This week on the Front Porch, U.S. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito gives her take on what the new Trump administration means for West Virginia.

We discuss recent resurgence of black lung among coal miners, what comes after the promised repeal of the Affordable Care Act, what can be done to build rural broadband networks, and more.

NPR Keeps an Eye on Coal Miners Health

Dec 16, 2016
West Virginia Morning
West Virginia Public Broadcasting

On West Virginia Morning, an interview with NPR investigative reporter Howard Berkes who has found a sharp increase in the number of coal miners with black lung disease and JD Souther and Nellie McKay are along with our Mountain Stage song of the week.

That’s on West Virginia Morning from West Virginia Public Broadcasting – telling West Virginia’s story.

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