Wednesday, September 03, 2008

'Please eradicate black lung,' which still plagues coal miners, writer asks would-be presidents

"Mr. Future President, please eradicate black lung," Appalachian writer Betty Dotson-Lewis writes in an open letter for the Daily Yonder. The first laws designed to combat the condition were passed almost 40 years ago, and specialists in the disease thought the law would make them find another line of work, but 30 years later miners are still developing black lung, and one expert "is now seeing evidence of black lung in younger and younger miners," Lewis writes.

"One expert explained black lung to me this way: The lungs become petrified. They are cut to pieces by the coal dust inhaled. The miner coughs, hacks flem, spits and can’t breathe. There is no cure for black lung – death is the only way out. ... Black lung slowly strangles its victims. Black lung kills many more coal miners than explosions or cave-ins."

A 1969 federal law established benefits for miners with black lung, but the benefits can be hard to get. Lewis tells the story of one miner who got benefits, had them taken away and lost several appeals. "John Adkins talked of the bitterness and anger he felt towards the coal companies and the politicians he had trusted to act fairly," Lewis writes. (Read more)

A recent Charleston Gazette story by Paul Nyden marked the anniversary of the opening of the first black-lung offices 30 years ago. (Read more)

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