National Public Radio (NPR) and the Center for Public Integrity (CPI) teamed up to produce a special investigative report on the increased incidence of black lung disease in coal miners. The results of their combined investigations were released on the NPR’s radio stations on July 9–10, 2012 and broadcast on Public Broadcasting Systems (PBS) television on July 9, 2012.
The investigation found that black lung disease in miners had quadrupled since the 1980s and doubled since June–July 2002. This doubling coincides with an increase of 600 hours in the work year of the average miner since 2002.
The NPR/CPI investigation focused on mining in West Virginia, Virginia, and Kentucky and found that over 10,000 miners had died of black lung disease and “massive fibrosis” (the most advanced and deadly form of black lung disease) between 1985 and 1994 and that over 2,000 had died from the same causes in West Virginia alone.
There is no treatment for black lung disease. Many victims report that at its “massive fibrosis” stage they can either eat or breathe, but not both at the same time. One victim interviewed on NPR and PBS said that he could not even hold his two-year-old grandson for more than a minute or so before oxygen deprivation set in and he had to set the child down. It was too exerting for him.
The coal seams in existing mines are thinner now than they were decades ago, and mining companies are extracting coal seams down to one inch thick. These seams are often embedded in quartz rock that has a high silica content. As deadly as coal dust is in itself, the dust produced from extracting these tiny seams is even more deadly.