Environment
5:00 am
Mon July 9, 2012

NPR, Partners Investigate Resurgence of Black Lung Disease

An investigation by NPR and several partners has found that black lung disease is far from being eradicated among coal miners. On the contrary: the reports outline a disease where diagnoses have doubled in the last decade in parts of Kentucky, West Virginia and Virginia.

Black lung disease--also called coalworkers' pneumoconiosis--is a disease caused by breathing large amounts of coal dust.

The project is a collaboration between NPR, the Center for Public Integrity and the Charleston Gazette. Two pieces by NPR rural affairs correspondent Howard Berkes will air today during All Things Considered and tomorrow during Morning Edition.

From an NPR release:

NPR and CPI report that increased regulation – and near eradication of the disease – following a 1969 law gave way to systemic exploitation of coal dust measurement by mining companies, and weak enforcement by regulators. Federal data obtained by NPR and CPI indicates that thousands of coal miners were exposed to excessive levels of mine dust despite the strict limits established 40 years ago.

Charleston Gazette reporter Ken Ward had the series' first piece in the paper's print edition and online yesterday. In it, he lays out the past few decades of dust regulations and examines the various forces arguing for and against stricter limits on dust in coal mines.

In a companion piece, Chris Hambry of the Center for Public Integrity travels to Prestonsburg and speaks with current and retired coal miners. Despite rules that are supposed to protect miners, black lung disease is still present and is affecting miners at younger ages than ever before. Autopsies have shown that several of the men who died during the 2010 Upper Big Branch explosion had black lung--even though at least two of the men were in their 20s and had been working underground in less than a decade.

We'll be rebroadcasting NPR's black lung stories later this week on WFPL, and will have both Berkes and Hambry on Byline this Friday at 1:00 to discuss the investigation.