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Miners in 3 states have the highest risk of lung disease-related death

Photo: Janoj/iStockphoto

Chicago — Coal miners in Kentucky, Virginia and West Virginia may be more than eight times more likely than the general public to die from black lung disease and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

That’s according to a recent study conducted by researchers at the University of Illinois Chicago and NIOSH. The researchers reviewed cause-of-death data from the National Death Index on nearly 236,000 coal miners who died between 1979 and 2017 and had participated in either the NIOSH Coal Workers’ Health Surveillance Program or the Department of Labor’s Federal Black Lung Program.

A NIOSH blog post states that although all coal miners have “significantly increased odds of death” from black lung – also known as coal worker’s pneumoconiosis – as well as COPD and lung cancer, another recent study of regulatory dust monitoring data shows that respirable dust containing silica “was significantly higher” in central Appalachia than the rest of the country. 

The researchers note that coal miners also face potential exposure to known carcinogens including diesel exhaust, silica, asbestos and radon. Further, the researchers found that progressive massive fibrosis – the most severe form of black lung disease and which is caused by dust inhalation – is more common among younger miners.

“These findings underscore the importance of preventing chronic lower respiratory diseases like COPD caused by respirable coal mine dust and other factors in coal miners,” NIOSH says.

Issued in January, the Department of Labor’s Fall 2022 regulatory agenda includes a long-awaited Mine Safety and Health Administration proposed rule on respirable crystalline silica. The agenda lists April as a target date for publication of the proposed rule.

Responding to the study findings in a press release, United Mine Workers of America President Cecil Roberts urges MSHA to swiftly respond once the proposed rule is introduced.

“Time is of the essence here,” Roberts said. “Every day that goes by without action is another day our nation’s coal miners are exposed to deadly silica dust.”

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