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Appalachia Health News tells the story of our health challenges and how we overcome them throughout the region. 

Severe Black Lung Cases Continue To Rise – And In Younger Miners

Howard Berkes

A conference of black lung clinics took place this week at the Pipestem Resort in southern West Virginia. It has been three years since the conference was held due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The Mine Safety and Health Administration announced new steps this week to limit silica dust in coal mines. Prolonged exposure to the dust has been proven to cause black lung disease.

Despite MSHAs action, however, conference attendees received grim news that advanced cases of black lung disease were increasing, and in younger miners.

Wes Addington, an attorney with the Appalachian Citizens Law Center who handles black lung cases, said some miners are developing the disease in their 20s.

“What we’re seeing today was baked in a decade ago. Fifteen years ago,” he said. “That’s what’s terrifying.”

Addington said a new silica dust rule from the federal agency should be coming this year.

The Black Lung Disability Trust Fund is in debt, and an excise tax that supported it expired at the end of last year. Congress will need to renew the tax to stabilize the fund.

Appalachia Health News is a project of West Virginia Public Broadcasting with support from Charleston Area Medical Center and Marshall Health.

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