In Pennsylvania and other states with a sizeable coal mining industry, the number of coal miners being diagnosed with black lung disease is on the rise. In 2016, NPR surveyed 11 black lung clinics and found that there were 962 cases that year. Since then, the investigation begun by NPR has tallied over 1,000 more. This can be shocking considering how there were just 31 cases at the end of the previous century.
The NPR report confirms another alarming trend: the coal miners who have been diagnosed with black lung are younger than ever before and have been working for less time than workers of past decades. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health also surveyed three clinics for instances of complicated black lung, an extreme form of the disease. It discovered that the three together diagnosed 416 workers with it.
Black lung disease is caused by coal mine dust, a combination of coal and silica. This is kicked up as miners cut into the seams, inhaled, and left inside the lungs, where it can kill cells and inflame the lungs. The resulting tissue damage will necessitate a lung transplant.
NPR states that cutting into thinner seams, where silica content is higher, may be causing the increase. Also, longer work shifts may be partly responsible. Coal mine dust regulations are currently under review.
Black lung is a type of occupational disease, so coal miners will be eligible for workers’ compensation benefits if they have been diagnosed with it. Though these benefits come with a cap, consulting with an attorney may help a victim receive benefits to which he or she is entitled. To receive these benefits, no one needs to prove that anyone was negligent. Still, a lawyer may be able to gather evidence of the condition and negotiate on the client’s behalf, litigating only if necessary.