Are coal miners still at risk of lung disease?

Black lung disease and other respiratory illnesses are still ravaging coal miners, despite advances in safety and prevention.

For many of those working in West Virginia coal mines, the worksite is a lot safer today than it was back when shafts were still supported with wooden beams. However, even with modern medical advances and better filtration systems in the mines, coal mining remains one of the most dangerous jobs people can work. One of the greatest risks to miners' health is lung disease from inhaling particulates; whether in the form of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) or coal workers' pneumoconioisis (CWP), also known as black lung disease.

Why coal miners are still getting sick

Web MD estimates that coal dust inhalation has led to lung issues for approximately 16% of miners. The longer someone spends continuously breathing in coal dust, the higher his or her likelihood of developing black lung disease. The problem that happens is that the lungs will try to get rid of the particulates, causing an inflammatory response that can lead to fibrosis, which is a type of scarring. The severity of the disease is measured in parallel with the degree of scarring, with the most complicated cases, known as progressive massive fibrosis, being the most dangerous.

Preventative measures

While black lung disease is a known workplace health hazard at coal mines, efforts have been made to reduce its incidence. Miners can check with their management to ensure that the level of dust in their tunnels follow federal safety regulations. Miners can also reduce the amount of contamination they expose themselves to by washing their hands before eating and drinking, washing the dust off of their skin and wearing masks. Even though black lung disease is considered incurable, it is also preventable.

Other risk factors

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that from 2007 to 2016, 4,118 of coal miner deaths have been related somehow with CWP. However, exposure to the exhaust of diesel engines, also commonly used in mining operations, can increase miners' risk of lung cancer. Diesel engine exhaust inhalation is also associated with decline in lung function, inflamed airways and nasal irritation. The risk of these respiratory ailments increases with the amount of time miners spend exposed to diesel exhaust.

Compensation may be possible

The Black Lung Benefits Act exists to help coal miners and their families who have wound up with lung diseases from working in the mines. The CDC states that from 1971 to 2017, more than $46.685 billion have been paid out in compensation for claims filed under this act. Anyone who has developed a mining-related disease may be able to get compensated. An attorney in the local area who practices personal injury law may be able to help in such cases.