(Reuters) – More than 10 percent of American coal miners with 25 or more years of experience have black lung disease, the highest rate recorded in about two decades. This emerges from a study published on Thursday, central Appalachians.
FILE PHOTO: Radiologist Mark Davis examines the chest X-ray of retired coal miner James Marcum, who complicates black lung disease, on May 1
The study by researchers from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health of the Government is the most conclusive evidence yet of a resurgence of incurable respiratory disease from coal dust that struck miners in the US in the 1970s, but nearly became so in the 1990s eradicated.
"Although many black lungs consider a disease of antiquity, it is undeniable that … these contemporary cases of harmful exposures have emerged in the 21st century," the authors said in the report published in the American Journal of Public Health.
The National Mining Association, which represents US coal mining companies, has questioned the claim that black lung disease is being thrown back, arguing that miners do not need to be screened.
"Excluding healthy people who choose themselves from the program can distort results – we will not know until more data is available," said NMA spokeswoman Ashley Burke.
The authors of the NIOSH report said their findings underscored the need for more stringent regulations as US President Donald Trump's government requested industry feedback on coal dust policy in 2014. The 2014 standards reduced the allowable amount of coal dust in underground mines to 1.5 milligrams per cubic meter, from 2 mg / m3.
"Improving and carefully enforcing the 2014 standards remains crucial to reverse these trends," they write.
Burke said the NMA is not against the 2014 limits.
She added, "The study's findings are very worrying, but what's important is covering miners whose exposure goes back decades before stricter standards were introduced."
The highest rates of the disease are they appear in the central Appalachians such as Kentucky and West Virginia, the report says. In this region, one-fifth of long-term miners have black lung disease, and five percent have an advanced form that is considered to be completely debilitating.
"We can not imagine any other industry or workplace in the United States where this would be considered acceptable," they wrote in the report.
Health officials who have been providing anecdotal evidence for an increased black lung rate in the Appalachian Mountains for years report that miners in the region are locating the depths of logged coal seams with heavy explosive devices that could increase dust levels.
The National Academies of Science, Technology and Medicine said last month that coal companies would have to make a "fundamental change" in the control of coal dust pollution. He also called on regulators to improve dust monitoring and to research more about the causes of the resurgence. Meanwhile, a federal fund to help victims of black lung disease might require a billion-dollar taxpayer allowance if Congress does not extend or increase the tax on coal production funding it, the Government Accounts Bureau said last month.
Edited by Marguerita Choy