Black lung disease is the common name for coal workers pneumoconiosis (CWP).  It once was a disease that affected coal miners over the age of 50;  however, investigations show that younger mine workers are developing the disease as well.  The name was given because inhalation of heavy deposits of coal dust makes miner lungs look black instead of a healthy pink.  Since the Federal Coal Mine Health and Safety Act of 1969, average dust levels have fallen.  The 1969 law also set up a black lung disability benefits program to compensate coal miners who have been disabled by on-the-job dust exposure.  

An investigation by the Center for Public Integrity and ABC News, (Brian Ross, Matthew Mosk, and Chris Hamby), brings up the terrible reality that many of America’s coal miners have been denied their black lung benefits.  Although they were diagnosed as having the disease by their primary doctor, a particular physician at Johns Hopkins University and Medical Center has reviewed more than 1,500 x-rays of claimants since 2000, and never identified a single case of black lung disease.  In many cases, it took the miner’s death, and an autopsy that followed, to prove what the miner claimed all along, that the cause of his diminishing health was brought on by the dust he breathed while working underground.  Johns Hopkins is reviewing its Black Lung Program.  The Center for Public Integrity also reviewed the work of one of the coal industry’s “go-to” law firms for black lung cases, finding instances in which the firm withheld evidence of the disease while fighting the miners’ claims. 

ABC News identified a group of specialists with affiliations who help the coal companies defeat the miners in numerous cases.  (The disability benefit is around $1,000 per month).  A corps of lawyers, doctors, and experts have helped these companies deny the benefit to workers they so desperately need to fight the disease, rather than legal and medical experts. 

ABC News featured “Black Lung, Out of Breath” on Wednesday night’s evening news with Diane Sawyer.  It also aired on “Nightline” later that evening. Hopefully,  public awareness will help support the cause of protecting the mine workers who become ill, and receive their benefits, as promised in that 1969 law. 

Unless one has worked in industries such as mining, oil fields, or any other occupation that produces the energy our country needs, (or other countries, as well), persons do not realize the hazards that are involved in this kind of work.  Let’s not take those workers for granted.  Even though they are equipped with respiratory protection, hard hats,  and all types of safety gear, through the years the accumulation of coal dust and other particulates in mines may take its toll. 

Note:  Johns Hopkins Medicine has suspended its black lung program pending a review in response to an ABC News investigation with the Center for Public Integrity that showed how medical opinions from doctors at the prestigious hospital have helped the coal companies thwart efforts by ailing mine workers to receive disability benefits. 

Source: ABC News, Center for Public Integrity