Review confirms black lung at Upper Big Branch

May 17, 2013 by Ken Ward Jr.

Just out from Howard Berkes at NPR is a piece headlined, Doctors Confirm Black Lung In Victims Of Mine Blast, reporting:

The tragic deaths of 29 coal miners in a has provided new evidence of a resurgence of the disease known as black lung.

On Monday, a team of pathologists and lung disease experts will present the results of from some of the victims of the Upper Big Branch mine disaster in West Virginia. They’ll describe the findings at the American Thoracic Society’s annual conference in Philadelphia this weekend.

“Our pathology — where we actually see the lung tissue, we actually see the scars, we see the dust — confirms we’re seeing a problem,” says , the lead researcher and chairman of pulmonary and critical care medicine at Cook County Health and Hospital System in Illinois.

Specifically:

Cohen’s team reviewed lung tissue obtained from autopsies of seven of the Upper Big Branch victims. Only seven families of the deceased coal miners granted permission for the study.

Six of the seven samples bore telltale scarring that indicates black lung. One of the samples showed a “fairly advanced form of the disease.”

One of the miners worked less than five years underground and several had about 10 years in coal mines. They ranged in age from about 30 to 60. The names and specific information about the miners weren’t disclosed because their families were promised confidentiality.

Cohen says the relatively young ages of some of the miners and limited tenure underground “means that there were probably some intense exposures and excessive exposures over a short period of time. That raises some concerns.”

This new conference presentation paper, available online here, confirms what Davitt McAteer’s independent Upper Big Branch investigation team reported two years ago, and adds to the evidence — including another new scientific report we covered last Sunday in the Gazette-Mail — that black lung remains a serious concern in the coalfields. Yet, as Howard notes in his NPR piece, the Obama administration’s proposals to try to fight black lung remain stalled:

The agency set a target date for next month for a rule-making on its proposal but it’s unclear if that deadline will be met. MSHA spokeswoman Amy Louviere says, “I have no new information about the dust rule.”

One Response to “Review confirms black lung at Upper Big Branch”

  1. the curious says:

    Ken, Often on Coal Tattoo you really stand up for scientific studies, and sometimes I think those studies are quite rigorous and other times less so, but I always appreciate you bringing them to the discussion — this study is really damning.

    Some of these miners did not have long tenures in the mines (certainly less than full careers) and so their pathologies are quite indicative of exposure to severe dust levels.

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