Toby Moore, Old House Branch Mine, Eastern Coal Company, Pike County, Kentucky, 1970.
Photo by Builder Levy
The current White House proposals to undo the Obama Administration's Clean Power Plan are nothing short of a war on public health. While many are focusing on the environmental ramifications of easing emissions restrictions, others are pointing out that such actions could significantly impact people's health. Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association says the plan “is a one-two punch to human health and the environment", especially to those predisposed to asthma, heart disease, and strokes. The new administration's promise to revive the coal industry, not only raises concerns about the effects of increased particulate matter in the atmosphere, it naturally casts the spotlight on miners whose immediate concerns are with diseases such as black lung and silicosis. Click to read the full article at Vox.
Black Lung? Baloney!
At a Charleston, West Virginia rally in 1969 as he addressed thousands of miners, Congressman Ken Hechler held up a bologna sausage to express his opinion of the WV Medical Association's assessment that there was no black lung epidemic. Since the 19th Century the war against black lung disease has been fought in a series of small battles against the coal industry and the doctors it employs. Battles, such as the one Congressman Hechler waged in the 60's, sought to enact federal legislation regarding mining health and safety. In 1969 Congress passed the Federal Coal Mine Health and Safety Act of 1969, which outlined standards to reduce coal dust and established the Black Lung Disability Trust.
It was in the 19th Century that physicians began to notice a disease that seemed especially prevalent among coal miners. Coal workers pneumoconiosis (CWP) or black lung disease is caused by exposure to coal dust, which the body cannot naturally destroy. The build up of coal dust in the lungs causes symptoms such as inflammation, fibrosis, and ultimately tissue death. CWP develops after contracting a similar and less severe disease known as anthracosis, which is present in most city dwellers due to air pollution. Those same physicians who noticed the disease early on answered to the companies that hired them, and you can guess where their loyalties lay. The term "black lung" is a broad one and refers to a range of related illnesses. Over the years, each time the definition of black lung was expanded, another fight erupted. In the early 20th Century not only did the coal industry promote the idea that coal dust was harmless, but company medical professionals asserted the dust could even prevent tuberculosis. Starting in the 1930's the coal industry leaders made it virtually impossible for miners to claim work-related disability due to black lung by arguing that silica present in most rock mines, not coal dust, was responsible for their illnesses. By the 1950's when evidence became overwhelming that coal dust caused disease, the industry maintained that only the most advanced forms of black lung caused breathing problems. Mine owners were still fighting efforts to include emphysema and chronic bronchitis under the umbrella of black lung disease well in to the 1990's. It wasn't until 2000 that the Labor Department formally recognized that coal dust was a contributor to these diseases as well. As recently as 2013 the industry contended that a rare disease known as idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF), had no relation to coal dust inhalation, thus the fight and the denial continue.
Read more on black lung disease.
Listen to a third generation miner discuss his recent diagnosis.
The graph (above) shows the percentage of coal workers with Black Lung who have different years of experience and over a span of 36 years. The longer a miner works, the larger percent of them have Black Lung. Also, the percentage of people with Black Lung was really high in the early seventies, but then it declined until the late nineties. It is rising now, though. The percentage of miners with 25 or more years of experience has risen from 4% to 8%.
(Graph and text retrieved from http://bit.ly/2nGyxVz)
"Death by a Thousand Cuts"
Bit by bit the new administration and Republican lawmakers are killing the Environmental Protection Agency by chipping away at its budget and using other more subtle moves.
Click here to listen to the full story from "Science Friday"
posted by Amy Levengood with contributions by Chuch Gallagher