McAteer report: UBB black lung findings ‘alarming’

May 20, 2011 by Ken Ward Jr.

The report from Davitt McAteer’s independent investigation team contained some surprise findings that got only brief mentions in some of the media reports, but are worth much more attention than that.

It turns out that most of the miners killed in that terrible explosion on April 5, 2010, had black lung disease, or Coal workers’ pneumoconiosis (CWP). As the report explains:

At our request a recognized expert in occupational diseases and with experience in lung examinations of this sort reviewed the autopsy reports and determined the presence or absence of CWP.

Of the 29 victims, five did not have sufficient lung tissue available to make a determination relating to CWP: two due to massive injury and three due to autolysis. The remaining 24 victims had sufficient tissue for examination.

Seventeen of the 24 victims’ autopsies (or 71 percent) had CWP. This compares with the national prevalence rate for CWP among active underground miners in the U.S. is 3.2 percent, and the rate in West Virginia is 7.6 percent. The ages of the UBB victims with CWP ranged from 25 to 61 years.

The report concluded:

The victims at UBB constitute a random sample of miners. The fact that 71 percent of them show evidence of CWP is an alarming finding given the ages and work history of these men.

The only media outlet I’ve seen so far to give much detailed coverage to this issue is the Center for Public Integrity, which headlined its story, Persistent black lung, old scourge of coal, found in autopsies of most Massey miners.  They explained:

Headlines are sure to focus on the explosion and its causes, but black lung claims many more victims each year — perhaps as many as 10,000 between 1995 and 2005, according to estimates of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health , a federal research agency.

… In 2009, MSHA launched an initiative meant to eradicate black lung, and, in October 2010, the agency proposed a rule to limit miners’ exposure to dust. It would cut the current standard in half, require the use of personal dust monitors that provide data instantaneously, impose tougher dust sampling requirements and increase medical monitoring of miners. Current sampling is performed sporadically, and results can take weeks to come back from a lab.

Many mining industry representatives have lined up in opposition to the rule. There is no evidence that the proposed dust standard will protect miners any more than the current one, said Carol Raulston, a spokesperson for the National Mining Association . The industry has argued that the requirement could have serious economic consequences.

But Dr. Edward Petsonk, a physician and black lung expert, told the center:

It’s hard to understand how one could argue that reducing the amount of dust that’s inhaled would not reduce the amount of the disease.

7 Responses to “McAteer report: UBB black lung findings ‘alarming’”

  1. coalminer says:

    It seems to me that focus should go to some types of breathing apparatus that could be worn by miners who work in the face to provide fresh air or filtered air for the miner’s. These dust monitors can be worn and removed- therefored tampered with – by if other technology is there why not recognize and require it. Ken Ward don’t even ask the question- No MSHA does not recognize any filters being worn by miners-THey are not that smart!

  2. Patience says:

    Does this constitute significant – though indirect – evidence that Massey has been cutting corners all along (e.g., not taking the prescribed steps to contain/limit coal dust)? How long had each of these miners worked for Massey? How long at this mine? At other mines?

  3. Ken Ward Jr. says:


    The report says:

    “Of the 17 UBB victims with CWP, five of them had less than 10 years of experience as coal miners, while nine had more than 30 years of mining experience. At least four of the 17 worked almost exclusively at UBB. All but one of the 17 victims with CWP began working in the mines after the 2.0 milligram coal mine dust limit was put in affect in 1973. This was an exposure limit that was believed at the time sufficient to prevent black lung disease. It has since been determined ineffective to protecting miners’ health.”


  4. Bill Howley says:


    Read Chapters 6 & 7 of the report about failures of rock dusting and the extremely poor ventilation that Massey management ignored. Two things go a long way to preventing black lung — keeping coal dust out of the air in mines and providing a constant flow of fresh air. Both of these things were under the control of Massey’s management at UBB. The report provides clear evidence that management failed to invest either the time or money to do these jobs right.

    While the report focuses on coal dust and ventilation in its analysis of the causes of the explosion, these issues bear directly on who gets black lung and why.

  5. Builder Levy says:

    This information reinforces and backs up the report that the explosion was caused by dust! Why didn’t the The New York Times report it in their article today about the UBB explosion that killed the 29 miners? Thanks for sharing this info.

  6. Walnutcove says:

    In response to the comments and article; I personally worked in or around coal mines for forty years as a worker, manager, and compliance officer. My personal observations include when I arrived at a mine site at shift change and saw miners with limited coal dust on their faces due to some inadequate respirator, after traveling to their work area it was very obvious that company WAS Not co Pliny with regulations. Not enough air in the area, not enough water to suppress the dust, or dull cutting bits on the machinery. You can talk all you want about lowering the standard, but if the operator doesn’t complywith the regulations as it appears Masset didn’t black lung will continue forever. That is my personal experienced opinion.

  7. Nanette says:

    Will the widows of these miners who were found to have had black lung during autopsies automatically get their black lung benefits or will they have to fight for them? Getting black lung benefits is next to impossible now. It truly is a shame that the red tape and legal battles take years for a sick miner who usually does not have years left to fight. These families of these miners who were killed and had that disease shouldn’t have to go through all of that. They have been through enough and they deserve those benefits.
    Honestly, when I hear or read anything about Massey Energy or their subsidiaries my skin crawls.

Leave a Reply