Thursday, May 24, 2018

New studies confirm black lung surge for coal miners

According to a slew of studies released Tuesday or expected to be released soon, "more coal miners in central Appalachia have suffered the advanced stages of the deadly disease black lung than previous government research has found, and more miners working in the region today have earlier stages of the disease," Howard Berkes reports for NPR.

NPR research in 2016 had shown the disease's impact to be far worse than research from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, though later NIOSH research confirmed NPR's work. Previous studies of black lung incidence relied on federal black lung testing and surveillance, which was voluntary and only tested working miners. Black lung can take a long time to show up, so NIOSH was missing cases. "From 2011 to 2016, NIOSH counted just 99 cases of PMF nationwide. NPR, meanwhile, conducted its own survey of black lung clinics and legal providers and has found more than 2,000 cases in the same time frame," Berkes reports.

Kirsten Almberg and colleague Robert Cohen at the University of Illinois, Chicago, found more than 4,600 severe cases of the disease while combing through black lung benefit claims filed with the federal government since 1970. More than half the cases they found happened in the past 16 years, and they found sharp annual increases in the disease in central Appalachian coal mining states, Berkes reports.

"So it is certainly not a blip. It's not just a small spike. It's kind of a relentless and increasing progression of disease," Cohen told Berkes.

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