Black Lung Disease on the Rise in West Virginia
You would be forgiven if you thought that black lung disease was a health crisis that people did not have to worry about anymore. For decades, the number of people affected by black lung was dropping. Unfortunately, recent reports have revealed that there has been a resurgence of black lung cases in West Virginia. Thousands of coal miners are dying from an advanced form of black lung disease, and reports show that federal regulators could have prevented this problem if they had paid attention to their data.
What is Black Lung Disease?
Black lung disease is known as progressive massive fibrosis (PMF) or complicated black lung. This disease typically occurs in coal miners who have inhaled toxic dust, including coal dust and silica dust. It may take several years of exposure to this dust for a miner to develop full black lung. Similar to mesothelioma, the rare cancer caused by exposure to asbestos fibers, this disease will often plague miners for years before it is accurately diagnosed.
Many have described suffering from this disease as a slow suffocation. Unfortunately, there is no cure for black lung disease.
Why is Black Lung Disease Making Miners Sick?
According to an ongoing investigation by Frontline and NPR, the federal government has vastly under-reported the number of people affected by black lung disease.
According to data available from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), the federal agency responsible for researching and regulating mine safety, only 115 cases of black lung were reported from 2010 to 2018.
However, Frontline and NPR reached out to health clinics in five Appalachian states (areas where coal mining is a major economic activity) and discovered that there were more than 2,300 cases in that same time frame. This means that the government underestimated black lung cases by 2,000 percent.
This round of black lung disease is mainly affecting those born after regulations to protect miners were put into place. The NPR/Frontline report documented a series of regulatory failures that prevented adequate air-quality safety measures from being implemented. Since previous mining regulations went into effect, mining machines have changed. They have become more powerful and generate more harmful dust than previous mining activities.
Another major problem is that all of the bigger seams of coal were depleted by the middle of the 20th century. This means that miners now have to cut through other types of rock to get to smaller seams of coal. In many cases, this rock is quartz, which generates silica when ground up. Silica is 20 times more toxic than coal dust.
Who is Entitled to Black Lung Benefits?
The Black Lung Benefits Act was established to provide monthly benefits to the coal miners who are disabled by the black lung disease they contracted by working in the coal mining industry. This law also allows for people to receive additional benefits for dependents.
The Black Lung Benefits Act is also designed to provide benefits to eligible surviving family members of coal miners who have died due to black lung arising from their coal mining industry employment.
In all cases, the coal mining company that employed the miner may be required to provide benefits if it meets certain requirements. If they do not, then the Black Lung Disability Trust Fund will pay the benefits.
Contact a Charleston Injury Lawyer
If you or a loved one have contracted black lung disease after working in the mining industry, seek legal assistance as soon as possible. At Tiano O’Dell, PLLC, we are dedicated to helping victims secure the compensation they deserve. Let our Charleston personal injury attorneys get to work on your case today. For a free consultation, you can fill out our online form or call (304) 720-6700.