NPR, the Charleston Gazette and The Center for Public Integrity have compiled a series of important stories about resurgence of Black Lung Disease among coal miners and miners operating in Appalachian regions of Kentucky, West Virginia and Virginia in particular. There is a lot of overlap in the stories I’ve linked above, but the information compiled in these stories is damning. In short, the resurgence of Black Lung points towards inadequate regulation and enforcement of worker safety laws in the mines. The newfound prevalence of this issue rams home once again the dangers in mining and the numerous ways these dangers are exacerbated through negligence by mining companies and government programs. Black Lung is the long debilitating disease that eventually kills its victims by destroying their ability to breathe. You can get a feel for the nature of the disease in the quote from Mark McCowan in the NPR article:
“Now it feels like I’ve got a heavy wet sack on each lung,” McCowan says, between long, deep breaths. “Breathing has become a conscious effort. … It seems like I give up a little bit of my world each day, that it gets smaller and smaller.”
Black Lung is a symbolically fitting as a disease tied directly to mining. Like our societal dependence on coal itself, the continuing presence of Black Lung reminds us that coal is a killer in the long term no matter what our efforts to “clean up.” In the immediate future, the issue of Black Lung should be addressed on a legislative level, but as Ken Ward Jr. reports, easier said than done. (This may sound like I’m drawing a hard line on coal, and to an extent I am. Still I want to be a bit more nuanced. As I’ve said in the past, I don’t believe there’s a complete answer to our dependence on coal yet, but that any answer that we come up with needs to take into account the economic stability of regions that have historically suffered the boom and bust cycles of mining. Moreover, my immediate focus is on worker safety issues.)
In other coal related news, the New York Times recently ran an op-ed by Jason Howard about the civil war raging in coal country regarding mining and MTR in particular. It serves as a good introduction to the stakes in this issue. (Thanks to Marcus for the link.)
For readers in Oregon, I also point to some coal issues closer to home via the Register Guard.