Over the decades, great gains have been made in reducing black lung disease among coal miners. But, recently, there’s been an uptick in the sometimes fatal condition. Fifty years ago, Central Appalachian Education and Research Center Director Wayne Sanderson says about a third of all miners contracted black lung. Today, the potentially deadly disease afflicts about four to five percent of miners. And, Sanderson says, that number’s climbing.
“One of the big worries we have is that with the efficiency of the mining techniques and the coal preparation plants that the mines are actually beginning to mine more rock rather than coal and that rock will contain crystalline silica which is highly damaging to the lung, it’s highly toxic to lung tissue,” said Sanderson.
That resurgence was the topic of a recent symposium in Lexington. Jay Colinet is a senior scientist with the National Institute for Occupational, Safety and Health. Colinet says a study due out in a couple months focuses on extending methods of suppressing coal and rock dust with water.
“The scrubber had a major impact, statistically significant impact in reducing the dust levels downwind of a continuous miner, so if you have miners working downwind running a roof bolting machine for an example, the use of a scrubber would have an advantageous impact on their dust exposures,” explained Colinet.
Stanley Sturgill is a retired miner from Harlan County with more than four decades of experience. In protecting miners, Sturgill says it still comes down to consistent enforcement and adherence to rules.
“If they really got serious with trying to protect coal miners from black lung and what have you, they would do it,” added Sturgill.
Sturgill claims some coal companies only follow federal guidelines and standards when government inspectors are on-site.