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.
Initially, he was opposed by unlikely sources, such as the Democrat newspaper the Charleston Gazette and the United Mine Workers of America. Buff joined forces with fellow doctors Donald Rasmussen and Hawey Wells to spread the word at miner rallies. While the other doctors touted their research, Buff, an accomplished showman, was the star performer at these events.
I. E. Buff deserves much of the credit for pressuring the legislature to modernize the state’s workers’ compensation law to cover black lung. He also played a key role in lobbying Congress to pass the 1969 Federal Coal Mine Health and Safety Act, which capped the legal amount of coal dust allowed in mines and provided compensation for black lung victims.