Black Lung

Congressional Panel Hears Black Lung Testimony, MSHA Chief Says No New Policy Needed

Jun 21, 2019
An X-ray image of an Appalachian coal miner with black lung lesions.
Adelina Lancianese / NPR

A Congressional panel heard testimony and had some sharp questions Thursday about the epidemic of black lung disease among Appalachian miners. Labor leaders are calling on federal regulators to strengthen protections for miners and several lawmakers wanted to know why the country’s top mine safety agency is not doing more in response to the dramatic increase in the preventable but deadly disease.


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. 

Still Fighting: These Widows’ Stories Show Larger Effects of Black Lung Epidemic

Jan 20, 2019
Vickie Salyers with a picture of Gene, who died in 2013.
Sydney Boles / Ohio Valley ReSource

Nancy and Rich Potter had the kind of marriage that made other couples jealous. He’d take her on spontaneous trips. She’d wear her Daisy Dukes just for him.

Joyce Birman said her late husband, George, made a terrible first impression. It was his apology for it that made her fall for him, hard.

Southern West Virginia is a playground for hikers, cyclists and rock climbers, but in the heart of that lush landscape rests the site of what many consider the worst industrial disaster in American history.

Today, from a picturesque overlook on the mountain above, tourists can see the gate of the Hawks Nest Tunnel, located on the New River in Gauley Bridge. There, water rushes through 16,240 feet of steel and rock.

Ohio Valley Senators Again Aim to Shore Up Shaky Pension Plan For Coal Miners

Jan 9, 2019
UMWA retirees talk pension protection with Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH).
Courtesy office of Sen. Brown

Following a failed attempt to address a looming crisis in many multi-employer pension programs, two Ohio Valley lawmakers have introduced a bill in Congress to shore up the shaky pension plan for coal miners. The bill also aims to protect health benefits and restore funding for the federal trust fund providing benefits for thousands of miners sickened by black lung disease.

West Virginia Morning
West Virginia Public Broadcasting

On this West Virginia Morning, two Ohio Valley lawmakers have introduced a bill in Congress to shore up coal miners’ health and pension benefits and restore funding for the federal black lung trust fund. Becca Schimmel reports.

Still, They Persist: Black Lung Advocates Demonstrate At McConnell’s Ky. Office

Dec 20, 2018
Teri Blanton speaks about watching her father die of black lung disease.
Sydney Boles / Ohio Valley ReSource

With just days left before a Congressional deadline, advocates for black lung treatment are still pushing Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell to secure funding for miners’ benefits.

About two dozen people demonstrated Wednesday near McConnell’s regional office in London, Kentucky, carrying placards reading “Black Lung Kills” and singing along with a banjo tune modified for the occasion.

Amid Black Lung Surge, Pulmonary Rehab Brings Hope To Disabled Miners

Dec 19, 2018
Marcy Tate, right, helps a patient at New Beginnings clinic in Norton, Va.
Photo courtesy of Marcy Tate

Marcy Tate grew up in southwest Virginia in a coal mining family.

“My father-in-law was a coal miner, my father was a coal miner, my grandfather was a coal miner, my great-grandfather was a coal miner,” she said. Tate knew what black lung disease looked like.

West Virginia Morning
West Virginia Public Broadcasting

On this West Virginia Morning, NPR’s Howard Berkes reported this week that more than 2,000 coal miners are now suffering from the most severe form of black lung disease, called pulmonary massive fibrosis. And despite clear warnings, industry regulators did not stop it.
The investigation caps a nearly four-decade career for Berkes, who is retiring from NPR this month.
The Ohio Valley ReSource’s Jeff Young spoke with Berkes about how he reported this story, and why his reporting kept taking him back to Appalachia’s coal country.

West Virginia Morning
West Virginia Public Broadcasting

On this West Virginia Morning, as Congress nears the end of its session, the clock is ticking on a tax that supports the federal Black Lung Disability Trust Fund. The fund provides benefits to tens of thousands of sick coal miners in the Ohio Valley. If Congress does not extend the tax, the fund will likely slide deeper into debt just as the region is seeing a surge in new cases of black lung.

As The Ohio Valley ReSource’s Becca Schimmel reports, the decision is largely in the hands of Kentucky senator Mitch McConnell.

McConnell Hints At Action To Preserve Tax Supporting Black Lung Fund

Oct 24, 2018
An X-ray image of an Appalachian coal miner with black lung lesions.
Adelina Lancianese / NPR

Amid a surge in cases of black lung disease, concerns are rising about the Black Lung Disability Trust Fund, which provides federal benefits to some coal miners with the disease. A tax that supports the fund would be cut by half at the end of the year unless Congress acts.

West Virginia Morning
West Virginia Public Broadcasting

This year’s Appalachian Heritage Writer-in-Residence at Shepherd University is Karen Spears Zacharias. Zacharias grew up in a military family but spent most of her childhood in the hills of Appalachia. During the Vietnam War, her father was killed in action, and his death left a major impact on Zacharias’ life and the lives of her mother and siblings. In this episode of West Virginia Morning, we'll hear an interview with Zacharias about how writing and faith helped her through the struggles of her youth.


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

A bipartisan group of U.S. Senators have introduced a provision that aims to boost participation in black lung detection programs.

Virginia Democrat Sen. Mark Warner introduced the amendment Wednesday into the defense, labor, health and education spending package that is being debated on the Senate floor.

If passed, the provision would require the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health or NIOSH to create a report for Congress within 180 days detailing how to increase participation in black lung screening programs.

One in five working coal miners in central Appalachia who have worked at least 25 years now suffer from the coal miners' disease black lung. That's the finding from the latest study tracking an epidemic of the incurable and fatal sickness.

Federal Prosecutor Charges Coal Company With Faking Dust Samples Amid Black Lung Surge

Jul 11, 2018
An X-ray image of an Appalachian coal miner with black lung lesions.
Adelina Lancianese / NPR

The U.S. Attorney for Kentucky’s Western District unsealed eight fraud indictments Wednesday against employees of the bankrupt Armstrong Energy coal company for falsifying dust monitoring samples in two Kentucky mines.

Adelina Lancianese / NPR

A new report from the National Academy of Sciences says the coal mining industry needs a “fundamental shift” in the way it controls exposure to coal and rock dust in order to prevent lung disease among miners.

Benny Becker / Ohio Valley Resource

A new study from the Government Accountability Office finds that the federal fund supporting coal miners with black lung disease could be in financial trouble without Congressional action. As NPR has reported, the GAO found that the fund’s debt could rise dramatically at the same time that black lung disease is surging.

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