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Severe black lung disease spikes among Kentucky miners: report

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Photo: Alex Potemkin/iStockphoto

Atlanta – A radiology practice in eastern Kentucky diagnosed 60 current or former coal miners with progressive massive fibrosis – the most severe case of black lung disease – between January 2015 and August 2016, according to a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“This ongoing outbreak highlights an urgent need for effective dust control in coal mines to prevent coal workers’ pneumoconiosis, and for improved surveillance to promptly identify the early stages of the disease and stop its progression to PMF,” the report states.

The cluster was not identified through NIOSH’s Coal Workers’ Health Surveillance Program, which identified only 31 such cases nationwide between 1990 to 1999. The disease has seen a resurgence since then, with increases in prevalence and severity, the report states.

Inhaling respirable coal mine dust causes coal workers’ pneumoconiosis, also known as black lung disease, according to CDC.

The Federal Mine Safety and Health Act of 1977 and the 1969 legislation it amended had helped significantly curb cases of black lung and nearly eradicate progressive massive fibrosis by establishing limits on miners’ exposure to inhaled dust.

“The factor or combination of factors that led to this increase in cases of PMF in eastern Kentucky and whether there are more unrecognized cases in neighboring coal mining regions are unknown,” the report states. “Because PMF takes years to become manifest, the specific exposures or mining practices that led to these cases are also unknown. New or modified mining practices in the region might be causing hazardous dust exposures.”

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