Can You Imagine Trying to Continue Working After Contracting Silicosis (Black Lung) Disease

by Duane Nichols on August 22, 2023

Oak Hill is just south of the New River in Fayette County, WV, but coal mining is continuing in many counties north and south of the New River

Those who treat black lung locally see cases on the rise

From an Article by Annie Moore, WVVA, Oak Hill, WV, August 22, 2023

OAK HILL, W.Va. (WVVA) – Those who treat Black Lung disease in Southern West Virginia said Tuesday they are seeing a startling rise in cases. Despite numerous legislative efforts to address the issue in the 1980s and 1990s, screeners at New River Health said the number of cases recently reached levels not seen since the 1970s.

At a free screening event at their clinic in Oak Hill, Breathing Dir. Lisa Emory offered insight on what may be driving the increase. “Coal companies are going after coal seams they didn’t want to go after a long time ago. So they’re having to cut through a lot of rock.”

Emory said miners have become the unintended victims of these efforts through exposure to higher levels of silica. To address the increase, she said the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) is currently considering a rule that would further limit miners’ exposure to the element.

David Bounds is a former miner who supports the new rule. Over time, he said his condition has progressively worsened since first being diagnosed with the disease in 1984. “It keeps piling up becoming harder to breathe. You can’t even carry groceries to your car.”

The good news is there are options for miners who test positive. Emory recommends they take advantage of a regulation known as ‘Par 90,’ which requires companies to move the miners to a safer location. “They have to be put in a less dusty job where they can have their pay protected and their job protected.”

New River Health has benefit experts available in Oak Hill to help miners navigate the process. “I encourage anyone in the dust who has been diagnosed with Black Lung to try and get out,” said Bounds.

Screeners from the National Institute of Occupational Health and Safety will also be at the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration in Beaver on Wednesday to offer free breathing tests and x-rays to anyone who is interested in being tested.

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