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Published on Sep 23, 2015
Prolonged exposure to respirable coal mine dust can cause lung diseases, such as coal workers' pneumoconiosis, emphysema and progressive massive fibrosis. These diseases, collectively referred to as black lung, can lead to permanent disability and even death.
According to National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) estimates, more than 76,000 miners have died since 1968 as a result of the disease, and more than $45 billion in federal compensation benefits have been paid out to coal miners disabled by black lung and their survivors. Evidence indicates that miners, including young miners, are continually being diagnosed with the disease.
Although some miners never develop the disease, others may develop the early signs after less than 10 years of mining experience according to NIOSH. In its early stages, called simple pneumoconiosis, the disease may not prevent workers from carrying on most normal activities. In some miners, the disease progresses from simple to complicated pneumoconiosis, a condition called progressive massive fibrosis.
People exposed to coal dusts that have shortness of breath, cough or any other health concerns, are advised by NIOSH to seek medical attention right away as pneumoconiosis may be detected on chest x-rays. Unfortunately, there is no cure for the damage that coal dust does to one’s lungs. Preventing black lung needs to be among the highest priorities for protecting the health of coal miners.
The Federal Black Lung Benefits Program provides payments and medical treatment to coal miners who are totally disabled from black lung arising from their employment in or around the nation’s coal mines.
These are just a few things to know about exposure risks to coal dust and black lung disease. To learn more about this or other occupational, air quality, environmental, health and safety issues, please visit the websites shown below.