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Coal miners face escalating black lung threat

For people who have worked in coal mines in Missouri and across the United States, black lung has always been a significant medical concern. However, at the end of the 20th century, it seemed that the respiratory disease caused by exposure to dust in coal mines was on its way to dying out. New cases had reached an all-time low, and experts reported only 31 cases of the most severe form of the illness. However, nearly two decades into the 21st century, the opposite has happened – new cases of black lung have spiked.

Between 2013 and 2017, epidemiologists working with the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health found 416 cases of the most severe form of the disease, complicated black lung, in only three clinics. These reflect similar concerns expressed by a national monitoring program for coal workers. Findings in the clinics reflect the largest cluster of this type of occupational disease ever studied. Black lung is caused when workers inhale coal dust while mining.

The particles provoke an immune response from the body that only continues to grow, as their mineral nature does not respond as bacteria or a virus would. As the disease develops, only a lung transplantcan help. In most cases, lives are extended by only a few years.

Reports of black lung have continued to escalate since the discovery at the three clinics. Studies throughout the country are finding numerous cases of this devastating occupational disease. Family members of miners who have lost their lives might want to meet with an attorney to see if they are eligible for workers’ compensation death benefits.