Black Lung

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

Underground coal miners start their shifts getting changed in closely packed changing rooms. They ride rail cars to their worksite, shoulder-to-shoulder, sometimes for more than an hour. And once they’re underground, ventilation designed to tamp down coal dust blows air through the mine. All that makes a coal mine  the kind of place where the coronavirus could spread like wildfire. 

The United Mine Workers of America is asking federal regulators to set uniform, enforceable guidelines to help protect coal miners from contracting COVID-19. 

coal
Mead Gruver / AP Photo

As states across the Ohio Valley order the closure of non-essential businesses to help slow the spread of the coronavirus, coal mines will remain open. But as with many industries, the global pandemic is straining the coal sector, and some experts say the already struggling industry could face intense challenges in the months ahead as electricity demand flags and international exports stall. 

West Virginia Morning
West Virginia Public Broadcasting

On this West Virginia Morning, coal miners with black lung disease met recently to discuss the 2020 legislative session, and we hear from Aetna Better Health, which was selected last year by the state Department of Health and Human Resources to help manage health services for foster children.

Caitlin Tan / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

The 2020 West Virginia legislative session has ended with no new legislation addressing black lung benefits, leaving former and current coal miners to depend on waning federal benefits to combat the lifelong disease.  


J. Tyler Franklin

What is the human impact of a failure to prioritize workplace safety? 

In this episode, which we originally aired in 2019, we’ll hear how weak regulatory laws, and a failure to prioritize worker safety, may be contributing to more deaths, and a higher risk of workplace accidents -- both at the state and national levels. 


Sydney Boles / Ohio Valley ReSource

Just three bankruptcies of American coal companies have added more than $800 million in costs to a federal government program that funds health care for disabled coal miners, the Government Accountability said in a report released Wednesday.

West Virginia Morning
West Virginia Public Broadcasting

On this West Virginia Morning, black lung continues to plague the region as miners who dedicated their lives to the coal industry are now left in holding patterns.

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

Lynn Estel Stanley was the kind of coal mine foreman who wanted to know if there was a safety problem, and would always be the one to go fix it himself. He was also the kind of miner who refused to slow down, even when his men told him he was overexerting himself. But when he was 69, his doctor told him it was time to stop for good.

Stanley wasn’t surprised. He knew he was getting sick. “It kept getting progressively worse and harder to breathe to the point where I just couldn’t do my job, I didn’t have enough oxygen,” he said.

Sydney Boles / Ohio Valley ReSource

Officials with the Mine Safety and Health Administration met for the first time with miners’ health researchers Wednesday in a new partnership designed to discuss ways to better protect coal miners from the dust that causes black lung disease. In future meetings, representatives from the two agencies will discuss recommendations made by the National Academy of Sciences in a 2018 report on monitoring underground coal dust exposure. That report said the coal mining industry needs a “fundamental shift” in the way it controls exposure to coal and rock dust.

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

A new report from the nonpartisan budget watchdog group Taxpayers for Common Sense says that an expired coal tax is effectively a taxpayer subsidy for the coal industry. The analysis reflects a growing concern about the fiscal health of a federal fund that supports tens of thousands of disabled coal miners. 

West Virginia Morning
West Virginia Public Broadcasting

On this West Virginia Morning, we’ll hear about a 70-year-old music festival serving a different kind of Christian music. Also, we hear the latest on the debate over the Atlantic Coast Pipeline and a new study on the risks of black lung disease.

New Kentucky Memorial Honors Miners Who Died From Black Lung

Oct 15, 2019
The memorial lists hundreds of local miners who have died from black lung.
Sydney Boles / Ohio Valley ReSource

Coal miners and family members of miners who have died from black lung disease gathered Sunday in Whitesburg, Kentucky, to dedicate a new memorial to miners who perished from the workplace disease.

While Appalachian coal country has several memorials to mining disasters, this is believed to be the first memorial to remember the thousands of men and women who died from black lung.

West Virginia Morning
West Virginia Public Broadcasting

On this West Virginia Morning, citizens are taking pipeline construction regulations into their own hands. We hear the latest on the Mountain Valley Pipeline and pipeline monitoring, and we hear reports on two rural hospitals and the epidemic of black lung disease.

Jessica Lilly / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

Across Appalachia, thousands of coal miners have suffered from black lung disease. In the 1960s, miners organized a movement to end the chronic condition. They convinced Congress to pass new laws that were supposed to make black lung a thing of the past. Today, conditions underground have changed, and the disease has come roaring back. For this episode of Inside Appalachia, we are taking another listen to this show which aired in the spring. 

Michelle Hanks

What is the human impact of a failure to prioritize workplace safety? In this episode, we’ll explore how weak regulatory laws, and a failure to prioritize worker safety, may be contributing to more deaths, and a higher risk of workplace accidents -- both at the state and national levels. 


As Congressional Panel Focuses On Black Lung, UMW Urges Stronger Health Protections

Jun 19, 2019
Black lung is a deadly disease caused by exposure to dust underground.
Department of Labor

As Congress hears testimony on the epidemic of black lung disease among Appalachian miners, two labor leaders are calling on Congress and regulators to do more to protect miners.

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

Nearly $2 million in federal funds will be awarded to West Virginia to help support the state’s black lung clinics.

Jessica Lilly

Robert Bailey was a coal miner for 36 years. He began working in McDowell County, and after it became too hard to breathe, he retired from a mine owned by Patriot Coal in Boone County. Bailey first told his story with WVPB in June 2014. He shared his final story with Inside Appalachia host, Jessica Lilly, on February 15, 2019. 

West Virginia Morning
West Virginia Public Broadcasting

On this West Virginia Morning, this week’s episode of Inside Appalachia looks at a disease that at least 2,000 former miners struggle with -- black lung. An NPR investigation found that miners are finding it tough to get help from doctors, lawyers, coal companies, and many lawmakers.

Retired coal miner John Robinson displays his mining helmet at his home in Coeburn, Va., on Thursday, Jan. 24, 2019.
Dylan Lovan / Associated Press

The Trump administration and coal industry allies are insisting that a federal black lung trust fund will continue to pay benefits to sick miners despite a drastic cut in funding.

Retired coal miner John Robinson uses a nebulizer during his daily breathing treatments for black lung disease on Thursday, Jan. 24, 2019 in Coeburn, Va.
Dylan Lovan / Associated Press

Former coal miner John Robinson’s bills for black lung treatments run $4,000 a month, but the federal fund he depends on to help cover them is being drained of money because of inaction by Congress and the Trump administration.

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

Mar 14, 2019
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.

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

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.

 

Courtesy Coal Miners Respiratory Clinic

Miners and advocates rallied Wednesday at the West Virginia Capitol in support of a series of bills aimed at preventing and treating severe black lung disease.

Five bills introduced by lawmakers would make it easier to make qualify for state benefits and provide benefits to miners who have early-stage black lung.

It was the second day of a statewide teacher and service personnel walkout over a comprehensive education reform bill. We bring you up-to-date on the latest action, and we also bring you special reports on black lung-related legislation, economic development, and tourism.

e-wv, The West Virginia Encyclopedia / West Virginia Humanities Council

On February 18, 1969, 282 coal miners walked off their jobs in Raleigh County. While coal strikes were common at the time, this one was different. First, the miners weren’t protesting for better wages but to have black lung recognized as a compensable disease. Second, the strike was in direct opposition to union wishes. For decades, miners had asked United Mine Workers of America leaders to address black lung. But, their pleas had been largely ignored. The previous year, union leader Tony Boyle finally had agreed to support black lung recognition at the state level.

Black Lung Clinics Call For Action But Top Regulator Plans No New Measures

Jan 29, 2019
An X-ray image of an Appalachian coal miner with black lung lesions.
Adelina Lancianese / NPR

In the wake of an NPR and PBS Frontline investigation into the surge in cases of black lung disease, a coalition of black lung clinics is calling for action to better protect coal miners from dust exposure.

West Virginia Morning
West Virginia Public Broadcasting

President of the West Virginia Board of Education David Perry joined Suzanne Higgins host The Legislature Today last night to discuss some of the biggest education issues, concerns and ideas for this legislative session, including an omnibus education bill expected to be taken up this week in Senate Education. 

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