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One of my great grandfathers died from complications of Black Lung. He was a Pennsylvania coal miner, and he was born and lived most of his life during the 19th century.

Well, it's the 21st century, and in an article on MSNBC:

Throughout the coalfields of Appalachia, in small community clinics and in government labs, it has become clear: Black lung is back.
In case you are not familiar with Black Lung, it develops when miners breathe in coal dust in poorly ventilated mines. The result is grotesque. According to Dr. Edward Petsonk who works with NIOSH,  “No human being should have to go through the misery that dying of [black lung] entaills ... it is like a screw being slowly tightened across your throat. Day and night towards the end, the miner struggles to get enough oxygen. It is really almost a diabolical torture.”

Why and how can this still be happening?

The disease's resurgence represents a failure to deliver on a 40-year-old pledge to miners in which few are blameless, an investigation by the Center for Public Integrity and NPR has found. The system for monitoring dust levels is tailor-made for cheating, and mining companies haven’t been shy about doing so. Meanwhile, regulators often have neglected to enforce even these porous rules. Again and again, attempts at reform have failed.

I know, I know so what else is new about workers getting screwed, right?  However, there are 2 things that are new in this same old crappy story.   Over the squiggle for more ...

Number 1:

In the decades following passage of the 1969 law, rates of the disease dropped significantly. Then, in the late 1990s, this trend reversed.
[My emphasis]  My first WHY?

Number 2:

Many of the newer cases have taken a particularly ugly form. While rates of black lung overall have increased, incidence of the most severe, fast-progressing type has jumped significantly. These cases, moreover, are occurring in younger and younger miners. Of particular concern are “hot spots” identified in central Appalachia by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, NIOSH, a government research agency.
[My emphasis]  2nd, 3rd, and 4th WHYS? ... w/ a WHERE the hell are these "hot spots?"

It seems that the most probable answer may be that the richest, widest, and purest coal seems have been mined, already.  Coal companies are going after narrower seams which contain more rock (silica) and not only are miners beathing in coal dust, but also silica based rock dust.

Plus ...

In each of the past 25 years, the average of all silica samples — taking into account only those deemed valid by MSHA — has been higher than the allowed limit. Last year, for example, roughly 40 percent of the valid samples were above this limit. What’s more, the limit MSHA enforces is already twice the level NIOSH determined to be safe in 1974.
Okay, more silica dust is in the air, AND workers are working MANY more hours, now. According to MSHA data, 10-12 hour days and 6-7 day work weeks are now "common."

“I have stayed (in a mine) sometimes two days and never come out,” said Donald Marcum. Sometimes, he said, “you’d just lay down beside the power box, sleep an hour or two and stay right there.”

WHAT?   If anyone was wondering if we're going back to the Robber Baron days, IMO we're already there in the coal mines.

Mark McGowan came down with Black Lung at 40 years old. “By the time I was 40 years old, I had mined more coal than most miners mine in a lifetime ... You would get in some areas of the coal face where ... you can’t see the hand in front of your face. … I would eat so much dust I would throw up.”

Wasn't anyone monitoring this?  Yeah, well, garbage in as the saying goes:

Decades of cheating
Donald Marcum knew he was at least a passive participant in something that was against the rules, maybe even criminal. Donald ... was supposed to wear a pump to collect dust for eight hours.

That almost never happened. Most of the time, he said, the mine foreman or someone else would take the pump and hang it in the cleaner air near the mine’s entrance.

Maybe criminal?  Maybe?  The mine owners and management are criminals, as far as I'm concerned.

And poor Donald? Why did he go along with what his management made him do? “We just done what we was told because we needed to feed our families and really didn’t look at what it might be doing to our health."

Workers who are diagnosed with Black Lung are entitled to Benefits under the BLBA.  Umm, the 2011-2012 benefit chart shows that this can be:

-  as low as $625/ mo for an individual

-  and up to $1,251 per month if the worker has 3 or more dependents.  

From 1968 through 2007, black lung caused or contributed to roughly 75,000 deaths in the United States. In the same 40-year span, federal and industry compensation for black lung victims and their families topped $45 billion.

Generation, after generation are going down into the mines for $800/ week (about $42K a year) and coming back up covered in coal dust inside and out, because it's a coal company town and they need to feed their families.

Alpha Natural Resources (the company that bought Massey Energy) CEO Kevin Crutchfield made $6.7 million in 2011, and I doubt he had to risk his health or life.  ANR profits were $95.5 mil in 2010.  

If anyone thinks that rolling back regulations and leaving the policing to the "job creators" is what we need to do to get good jobs back in America or that industry lobbyists aren't scum sucking creeps, I have a picture of the future for you:

Warning:  Graphic Image of Black Lungs

And if anyone thinks coal is a "clean, cheap alternative" ... see above and remember the 75,000 dead, the currently dying, and $1 billion a year this costs us all.

If you are interested in learning more, NPR's article is excellent.

And of course, the UMWA is also an excellent source.  

Originally posted to bkamr on Tue Jul 10, 2012 at 12:34 PM PDT.

Also republished by In Support of Labor and Unions and Community Spotlight.

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