A bipartisan group of West Virginia Senators has introduced a resolution that would task a legislative committee with studying the state’s black lung epidemic.
Senate Concurrent Resolution 59 was introduced Friday afternoon in the Committee on Health and Human Resources. The resolution was sponsored by Sen. Ron Stollings, a Democrat from Boone County, who is also a doctor.
If passed, it would task the Joint Committee on Government and Finance with studying why black lung is on the rise in West Virginia, especially in younger miners.
One in five working coal miners in central Appalachia who have worked at least 25 years now suffer from black lung, according to a study published last year by federal researchers in the American Journal of Public Health. Five percent of miners in West Virginia, Kentucky and Virginia have the most severe form of disease, progressive massive fibrosis, the study found. That is the highest rate ever recorded.
Black lung disease results from inhaling coal and silica dust during coal mining. The dust scars lung tissue and impairs lung function.
The study outlined in the new resolution would also look at how best to compensate miners who are diagnosed with the disease and how best to test for it, and the committee would draft legislation to put policies in place to reduce miners’ risk of developing black lung.
The committee’s findings would be reported to the Legislature next year.
The resolution comes after a series of black lung-related bills died during the legislative session. A House resolution acknowledging West Virginia's high rates of advanced black lung also has yet to pass. Similar language did pass in the Senate.