The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) is offering a series of free, confidential health screenings to coal miners as part of the Coal Workers’ Health Surveillance Program. The screenings are intended to provide early detection of coal workers’ pneumoconiosis, also known as black lung, which results from breathing coal dust.
According to the Institute, in the last decade, over 10,000 miners have died of coal workers’ pneumoconiosis. Black lung disease results in scarring of the lungs and emphysema, shortness of breath, disability, and premature death.
While the prevalence of black lung disease had decreased by about 90% from 1969 to 1995 following the enactment of the Coal Mine Health and Safety Act, the downward trend of this disease in coal miners has stopped.
Since 1995, the prevalence of black lung cases has more than doubled. Many current underground miners (some as young as in their 30s) are developing severe and advanced cases. Identification of advanced cases among miners under age 50 is of particular concern, as they were exposed to coal-mine dust in the years after implementation of the disease prevention measures mandated by the 1969 federal legislation.
An increased risk of pneumoconiosis has also been associated with work in certain mining jobs, in smaller mines, in several geographic areas, and among contract miners.
The health screenings are provided through the state-of-the-art NIOSH mobile testing units. They will begin March 19-23 in coal mining regions throughout Western Kentucky and then take place the following week, March 26-30, throughout Mingo, Logan, and Wayne Counties in West Virginia. Additional survey locations include coal mining regions throughout the rest of West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Maryland; in all, 12 weeks of surveys are planned this year.
The screenings will include a work history questionnaire, a chest radiograph, a respiratory assessment questionnaire, spirometry testing, and blood pressure screening. Each typically takes about 30 minutes, and each individual miner is provided with his or her results. By law, each person’s results are confidential. No individual information is publicly disclosed.
All coal miners — whether current, former, underground, surface, and those under contract — are welcome to participate.