Since the 1990s, annual numbers of U.S. coal miners with new, confirmed cases of an advanced form of so-called black lung disease known as progressive massive fibrosis have been steadily rising, according to a new study.
The resurgence is particularly strong among central Appalachian miners in Kentucky, Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia, the study authors note.
“It’s an entirely preventable disease, and every case is an important representation of a failure to prevent this disease,” said lead study author Kirsten Almberg of the University of Illinois at Chicago and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) in Morgantown, West Virginia.
Progressive massive fibrosis is the most severe form of pneumoconiosis, which is also known as black lung disease and is caused by overexposure to coal mine dust. The symptoms are debilitating and can lead to respiratory distress.
“Many people think black lung is a relic of the past,” she told Reuters Health in a phone interview. “But it shouldn’t fade from our attention.”
Almberg and colleagues looked at the number of progressive massive fibrosis cases among former U.S. coal miners applying for Federal Black Lung Program benefits between 1970 and 2016.Miners can apply for financial help and medical coverage if facing disabling lung impairment, and claims are accepted when medical tests and imaging verify the presence of disabling pulmonary impairment.