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Doctor Who Sparked Black Lung Strike Dead at 87

e-wv, The West Virginia Encyclopedia
via Charleston Newspapers

Dr. Donald Rasmussen, an internal medicine specialist who helped spark the 1969 Black Lung Strike, died on Thursday. He was 87.

The Charleston Gazette-Mail reports that throughout the 1960s, Rasmussen became involved in groundbreaking research about black lung, a sometimes-fatal disease caused by inhaling coal dust.

Rasmussen and two of his medical colleagues helped spark growing concerns about black lung disease throughout the coalfields, when they spoke in union halls, schools and churches.

The black lung issue came to statewide and national attention after a Nov. 20, 1968, methane and coal dust explosion killed 78 miners in Consolidation Coal’s No. 9 Mine between Mannington and Fairmont in Marion County.

In the wake of that tragedy, miners walked out on strike on Feb. 18, 1969, protesting the failure of the state Legislature to pass black lung legislation.

By March 5, when the state Senate began debating the bill, more than 40,000 of the state’s 43,000 miners were on strike.

After then-Gov. Arch Moore signed the bill on March 11, miners returned to work the next morning.

At the end of the year, the U.S. Congress passed the federal Coal Mine Health and Safety Act, which has helped miners with black lung across the nation.

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