Miners in Pennsylvania and elsewhere in the United States have been known for their risk of black lung, a term for a number of respiratory illnesses caused by exposure to coal dust. Reports indicated that as the 21st century dawned, the risk of black lung was at its lowest point with only 31 cases of the most severe form of the disorder reported. However, as of 2018, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health has found larger numbers of disease sufferers. There have been 416 cases of progressive massive fibrosis or complicated black lung reported in three clinics between 2013 and 2017.
The Coal Workers' Health Surveillance Program has provided free chest radiographs and examinations since 1970 in order to track the occupational disease, and in 2014, the program noted a rise in related disorders. Clinic directors have sought assistance from researchers in determining the cause and the breadth of the concern, which reflects the largest group of such cases reported in medical literature according to NIOSH epidemiologists.
The disease is caused by inhaling dust from coal mines; dust is produced in microscopic particles when miners dig into coal seams to remove the material. When coal dust is trapped in the lungs of miners, it provokes an immune response. Because the invading particles are a mineral substance, the immune response can escalate as inflammation intensifies. Eventually, the disease is only treatable by a lung transplant, but even a lung transplant only extends the estimated lifespan by several years.
Workers who are injured on the job due to occupational diseases or toxic exposure have the right to compensation for their medical bills and other losses. Black lung is a deadly disease that can take years from a worker's life. A workers' compensation lawyer may be able to help miners and other hurt workers pursue damages.