Coal Tattoo

Severe black lung reaches near-record levels


There’s a new paper out this morning that has some scary news about the continued resurgence of black lung disease in the Appalachian coalfields.  It focuses on progressive massive fibrosis, or PMF, an advanced, debilitating, and lethal form of coal workers’ pneumoconiosis with few treatment options and no cure.  Here’s the bottom line:

Just 15 years ago, PMF was virtually eradicated, with a prevalence of 0.08% among all CWHSP participants and 0.33% among active underground miners with at least 25 years of mining tenure. Since that time, the national prevalence of PMF identified through the CWHSP has increased; the rate of increase in the central Appalachian states of Kentucky, Virginia, and West Virginia has been especially pronounced.

Excessive inhalation of coal mine dust is the sole cause of PMF in working coal miners, so this increase can only be the result of overexposures and/or increased toxicity stemming from changes in dust composition (2). During 1998 to 2012, NIOSH identified 154 cases of PMF among CWHSP participants, 125 of whom were long-tenured underground coal miners in central Appalachia.

In 2012, the prevalence of PMF in this group of working miners reached 3.23% (5-year moving average), the highest level since the early 1970s.

Here’s the chart:

Chart Showing Resurgence of Severe Black Lung in KY WV and VA

The authors of the new study, NIOSH researchers David Blackley, Cara Halldin and A. Scott Laney, wrote:

Each of these cases is a tragedy and represents a failure among all those responsible for preventing this severe disease.