Worker health and wellness Respiratory conditions Coal

NIOSH: Severe black lung at highest levels in decades

Morgantown, WV – The prevalence of a severe form of black lung disease has increased recently to levels not seen in about 40 years, new NIOSH data shows.

Progressive massive fibrosis, an advanced and lethal form of coal workers’ pneumoconiosis that has no cure, has gone from being virtually eradicated 15 years ago to a nine-fold increase in prevalence. Among long-tenured underground coal miners in central Appalachia participating in NIOSH’s Coal Workers’ Health Surveillance Program, the prevalence was 3.23 percent in 2012 – the highest level since the early 1970s.

The findings were published in a data letter from NIOSH researchers to the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine.

In miners, progressive massive fibrosis is solely caused by “excessive” inhalation of coal mine dust, leading the researchers to conclude the increase in prevalence is the result of overexposure or increased toxicity in the dust composition.

“Each of these cases is a tragedy and represents a failure among all those responsible for preventing this severe disease,” the NIOSH researches said in the letter.

A new Mine Safety and Health Administration rule intended to lower workers’ exposure to coal dust went into effect Aug. 1.