Long-term exposure to coal dust is the cause of an illness known as coal workers’ pneumoconiosis or black lung disease. The condition causes inflammation in the lungs, a swelling and scarring of the tissue and potentially, the death of the lung tissue. It is a devastating disease that can disable the sufferer. Black lung has no known cure, but proper medical care can often prevent a worsening of the symptoms.
Recognition of Condition
In 1973, the Black Lung Benefits Act became law. It guarantees medical care and disability payments to miners diagnosed with the illness. It also gives financial aid to any dependents if a Coal miner dies prematurely due to the condition.
Vulnerability of Program
The establishment of the Black Lung Disability Trust Fund ensured that funding would remain available for the people found to have this condition. Unfortunately, problems have arisen with the fund and a recent Increase in cases has further strained the program. Reports by the US Government Accountability Office state that the trust fund will have a shortage of more than $15 billion by 2050.
Risk for Miners
Currently, over 14,000 Americans rely on the trust fund to pay for the medical coverage they need and to help with their personal expenses if they become too ill to continue working. With medical costs rising, and the cost of a lung transplant often exceeding $1 million, the potential loss of the trust fund is worrisome for families that rely on the help.
Mixture of News
The good news is that the federal government recently approved a funding increase for the program. The bad news is the rise of newly diagnosed cases and the younger age of the average worker diagnosed. Unfortunately, the disease also appears to progress faster in these patients than in previous generations. Experts believe this is the result of long work hours and exposure to sandstone. With so many mines across West Virginia stripped of their easily accessible coal, the teams now dig into sandstone for the remaining veins and expose themselves to toxic silica dust.
All miners and their families need to remain aware of their rights for compensation and care. Many families will suffer without the help of the benefits act and trust fund. Coal mining is a dangerous profession and the people that agree to do this work need to know the resources exist to help them if needed.