Why are black lung cases seeing a resurgence in the U.S.?

Black lung cases are more common in Virginia now than they have ever been, but why is this happening now?

Black lung is a disease that affects miners who have inhaled toxic dust while working in poorly ventilated tunnels in Virginia. In the earlier days of coal mining, black lung cases were rather common among miners. This prompted the drafting of increased safety regulations that have significantly reduced black lung cases since the 90s. Reduced, that is, until recently. In the last few years, new diagnoses have picked up faster than ever, which leads to the question: what is happening now to trigger such a sudden increase?

What black lung does

To understand what is happening to miners today, it is necessary to know how black lung takes effect. It is not an immediately noticeable disease, and the onset of symptoms can be very gradual. When silicate dust from mining is inhaled, it settles into the lungs, triggering an inflammatory response to attempt to get rid of the particles. This inflammation can develop into scarring. People with black lung can experience chest tightness, shortness of breath and a cough that may or may not produce black sputum.

The degree of the outbreak

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention state that severe black lung cases are as high now as they were in the 70s. Across the country, this number averages at 5 percent of coal mine workers, but in the worst-hit states such as Kentucky, Virginia and West Virginia, nearly 20 percent of miners have black lung. An epidemiologist with the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health comments that since the disease takes a long time to progress, these numbers are likely an underestimate of what they could be in the future.

New mining methods may prove more hazardous

If miners are being exposed to greater levels of silicates now than they were in the last few decades, something has changed in the industry. Most of the new cases happen in Appalachian states, where rules have changed since many unions disbanded. Miners now get less time to rest in-between shifts, and they work longer hours. The machines they use today are much more powerful than the ones being used when the current regulations were passed back in the 90s. The new machines throw up larger amounts of dust, increasing the amount of material in the air to potentially be inhaled.

The problem arises from this combination of conditions, but just like back in the 70s, black lung is a completely preventable illness. New regulations and safety equipment could take a while to start showing up, however. Any miner who has been injured on the job or who has been diagnosed with black lung may be able to get financial compensation to pay for expensive medical costs. An attorney in the local area who practices personal injury law may be able to help.