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Black lung disease on the rise in US

23rd May 2011

Statistics show that there are more and more cases of black lung disease in the US, even though US legislation about mine safety seemed to temporarily boost the health of miners.

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Coal dust is one of the main causes of the lung diseases affecting coal miners, which are collectively known as black lung disease, and also as coal workers' pneumoconiosis (CWP).

The individual diseases involved in black lung disease include silicosis, bronchitis, and emphysema.

Last month, the worst coal mining disaster to hit the US in 40 years sparked an investigation into the country's mines.

An independent study found that 75% of the people killed in the Upper Big Branch mine last month showed signs of black lung disease.

The report said that Massey Energy was the company responsible for the safety failings at the mine, and said that the operator's commitment to production came at the cost of safety.

The results of the study could imply that some mine operators are circumventing US legislation in the interest of profits, with drastic consequences for human health.

Davitt McAteer, who headed the investigation, said that the sample showed a terrifying number of affected people, and that the results were astonishing, particularly considering the age of the individuals.

The report said that the ventilation systems at the mine did not usefully ventilate the air.

Researchers estimate that 1,500 former coal miners die each year from black lung disease.

In the US, black lung disease was very prevalent in the early 1970s.

The disease decreased following legislation in the late 1970s, but the disease began to increase again following the mid 1990s.

Phil Smith, a spokesman for the United Mine Workers union (UMW), said that black lung disease was still killing miners, and there were hot spots such as southern West Virginia and eastern Kentucky, where Massey had operations.

According to the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA), there is no cure for black lung disease, although there are potentially life-saving measures that people can take.

The MSHA said that, even though those measures had been required for many years, new cases of black lung continued to occur among the nation's coal miners, even in younger mines.

The report said that some of the people who had developed signs of black lung disease were as young as 25, and five of those people had less than 10 years experience working in coal mines.

The report said that the prevalence of coal workers' pneumoconiosis among the deceased Upper Big Branch miners was both surprising and troubling.

 

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