Higher Numbers of Kentucky Workers Contracting Black Lung
Coal mining is a dangerous occupation for many reasons. Most people picture mine collapses when they think of miners being injured or killed because that is what they see in the movies. But a more prevalent killer of Kentucky workers is pneumoconiosis, commonly known as black lung disease. This disease is not new, but the number of cases has dramatically increased and it is appearing in younger workers now.
After the tragic explosion that killed 29 victims at the Upper Big Branch mine in West Virginia, tests were done on the lungs of 24 of the victims. About 70 percent of them had signs of black lung disease, including some that were only in their 20s when they died.
In 1969, the Federal Coal Mine Health and Safety Act was enacted to reduce the miners’ exposure to coal mine dust, which causes black lung. Miners were given free chest x-rays and compensation became available to those who suffered from the disease. Mine operators limited their workers’ exposure and the incidence of black lung decreased so greatly that some experts thought it would become obsolete.
Unfortunately, about 15 years ago, the number of cases began to increase again. Some say it is the result of increased working hours for the miners. Others say the mining machines have become more powerful recently and are able to cut through quartz and sandstone that contain silica, which is more toxic than the coal dust alone. Another reason could be the lack of reliable dust-monitoring systems and a lack of follow-up when a violation occurs. Some miners admit they did not wear their dust collecting devices the whole time they were mining because they were told to leave them somewhere with cleaner air. These devices played a role in determining the dust levels where they were working, which was key to their safety; but supervisors told them if the levels were too high, the mine might be shut down and they would be out of a job. In the last 11 years, 53,000 samples submitted to the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) showed that dust amounts were above legal limits, but less than 2,500 citations were given. Current laws allow mine owners to send additional samples to replace those that are over the limit and give companies time to fix problems before any penalty is given.
As the federal government struggles with how to fix this situation, miners continue to contract black lung disease and their families watch as their conditions worsen. Can something be done to help these workers and their families? Contacting a Kentucky personal injury attorney such as Steve Frederick may give some insight into what they can do to receive compensation for their pain and suffering, lost wages, and perhaps even loss of life through filing claims or taking legal action.
As Mine Protections Fail, Black Lung Cases Surge; NPR; Howard Berkes; July 9, 2012