Monday, November 23, 2015

Mine operators under reporting cases of black lung disease, federal mine safety chief says

Mine operators are drastically under reporting black lung disease among coal miners, writes U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration chief Joe Main. Since 2010, miners or their widows have filed nearly 34,000 claims for compensation with the Federal Black Lung Program. "About 14,800 of these cases were first-time claims. Also since 2010, about 3,700 miners from 20 states have been awarded compensation. Yet in that same time period, mine operators reported only 701 cases of black lung from nine states to MSHA."

Since 2010, the National Institute for Mine Safety and Health "has identified 488 working coal miners in 18 states with the disease through its chest x-ray program, in which only approximately one-third of working miners participate," Main writes. "By contrast, mine operators have reported cases in only nine states. For example, NIOSH identified 47 miners with the disease in Illinois and Indiana, but operators only reported one case of the disease."

In Kentucky, "coal companies have reported only 112 cases of black lung to the MSHA since 2010, even though miners in the state were awarded benefits in 1,442 initial claims to the federal black-lung fund during the same period, the agency said," Bill Estep reports for the Lexington Herald-Leader. "The disease has been the primary or contributing cause of death for more than 76,000 miners since 1968, costing the government $45 billion in benefits to miners and their families. More than 40 percent of longtime miners in some regions got black lung before Congress approved rules in 1969 limiting underground miners' exposure to coal dust."

"In 2014, NIOSH researchers reported that the most deadly form of the disease, progressive massive fibrosis, had spiked to the worst level in 40 years," Estep writes. "Researchers have identified a number of possible factors for the upswing, including miners' working longer shifts, meaning longer exposure to dust; more mining of thinner coal seams in Central Appalachia, which requires cutting through more rock; inadequate dust-control rules; and failure by coal companies to comply with the rules." (Ute Fans map: Age-adjusted death rates by state, U.S. residents age 15 and over, 1996–2005)

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