Yesterday Ellen Smith of Mine Safety and Health News posted a must-read story, “The Terrible Numbers of Black Lung Disease,” that collects recent MSHA “Part 50” data on black lung.
The story reports a sobering fact: coal companies reported 701 cases of black lung from October 2010 to September 2015.
While 701 more sick miners alone is a stark fact, the story points out some facts that make this number even more concerning:
- 12% of the miners with reported black lung had less than 15 years in the mines. Thus, 1 out of 8 miners with black lung from this group would be forced to pursue federal black lung benefits without the aid of the 15-year presumption. 13 of the miners had 5 or less years in the mines.
- The amount of reported black lung went up drastically from the first few years of the range to the end. For example, for the Oct. 2010 to Sept. 2011 year, only 41 miners were reported as having black lung, while for Oct. 2013 to Sept. 2014, 222 miners were reported as having black lung—more than a five-fold increase over just a three year period. (This increase is consistent with the recent NIOSH data showing the resurgence of severe black lung in recent years, see previous post here.)
- Only about 33% of eligible miners participate in the NIOSH screening program.
As expected, the states with the most black lung were concentrated in Central Appalachia.
Black Lung Cases By State:
West Virginia: 340
New Mexico 1
The story provides a breakdown of controller, company, and mine where most of the black lung was coming from.
Controllers with the highest numbers of black lung cases:
*Alpha Natural Resources Inc.: 505 (72% of all cases)
* 140, or 20% of these cases were with former Massey mines
Patriot Coal Corp.: 68 (9.7% of all cases)
CONSOL Energy Inc.: 22 (3.1% of all cases)
TECO Energy Inc.: 19 (2.7% of all cases)
Robert E Murray: 17 (2.4% includes former Consol Mines)
James River Coal Co.: 13 (1.9% of all cases)
The data raises some questions that warrant further inquiry. For example, were the conditions at these companies more dangerous or was there simply more participation or reporting at these mines? While these companies obviously have issues with black lung, the data does not appear to include small mines in places like Eastern Kentucky—a region that has been identified in NIOSH data as a “hot spot” for black lung.
In addition, it is unclear exactly what made the companies file a Part 50 injury report. As the story explains, “Some of the cases were filed because a miner filed a state workers’ comp claim for black lung. Others cases were filed with the federal black lung benefits program. Some reports say that the miners have been ‘diagnosed with pneumoconiosis,’ or ‘alleged black lung.'” This makes it unclear exactly what this data indicates.
Despite the data’s limitations, the fact stands that in a subset of coal mines, over just a 5 year period, 701 coal miners were sick enough with black lung that the company reported it to MSHA.
This data is another reflection of the resurgence of black lung and the dangers that coal miners face.