There is a shocking increase in the reported cases of pneumoconiosis, commonly known as Black Lung! And, more worrisome is that the new cases of the disease are even more deadly. The lungs of young miners are showing signs of progressive massive fibrosis (P.M.F.), also known as complicated pneumoconiosis.
Young miners are proving particularly vulnerable because the thinner coal seams now being worked in Appalachia leave them vulnerable to a more volatile black lung strain rooted in silica dust, according to an investigative report by National Public Radio.
The New York Times recently reported that an NPR study, based on data collected from 11 clinics, confirmed 962 cases of P.M.F. in the past decade. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health reported on a small Kentucky clinic where 60 cases of P.M.F. were reported. Before their Kentucky report, federal health officials had counted a total of only 99 cases nationally in the last five years.
There is no known cure for black lung, a wearying disease responsible for 78,000 deaths since 1968.
"We had not seen cases of this magnitude ever before in history in central Appalachia," Scott Laney, an epidemiologist with the national institute, said about the emerging threat.
And, the number is probably higher. Many coal miners hesitate to take part in testing, fearing they will lose their jobs because mining companies resent having to pay years of health costs once black lung is diagnosed.
The encouraging news is that there is financial help for afflicted miners. On the federal level, Obamacare (The Affordable Care Act) provides unique protection to coal miners. If a miner has worked underground for at least 15 years and suffers from black lung, the presumption is that the coal dust caused the damage, and the coal miner will be entitled to monthly benefits. And, after death, the widow will have a claim.
In Pennsylvania, coal miners are covered under the Workers' Compensation Act. There is a special section of the Act, Section 108, which provides the same type of presumption as the federal law.
I have been handling coal miner claims since 1974, just shortly after the federal statute was passed. If you feel that you may be entitled to federal or Pennsylvania black lung benefits, please call me at 888-534-6016 for a free consultation.