NPR recently reported 1,000 new Appalachian cases of the most advanced form of black lung, progressive massive fibrosis. That brings its total findings to 2,000 cases diagnosed in the region since 2010, reports Howard Berkes for NPR. He uncovered the new cases by collecting data from black lung clinics, doctors and attorneys in Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Kentucky and Virginia; it notes that the numbers are probably higher because many clinics couldn't provide data.
The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health reported only 99 cases in the entire country for the same time period. NIOSH is reviewing medical records at four clinics in Virginia and Kentucky to begin getting a better idea of the true number of black lung cases. After members of Congress became worried about the spike in cases, NIOSH, the Labor Department and the Department of Health and Human Services promised to work together to get a more accurate number.
Gregory Meikle of the Federal Mine Safety and Health Administration said almost all mining companies have been compliant with tougher coal dust exposure limits for the past decade in an effort to keep miners from developing the lethal disease, according to NPR. Meikle acknowledged that a case of black lung can take longer than 10 years to show symptoms, though.
Laney said that mines may not be as compliant with safety measures as the books suggest. "I don't think there's any reason for me to believe that there's any exposure measurements on the books that can account for that level of impairment," he said in the NPR story.