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Coal firms should protect miners

No man should die from coal mining, be it from a methane explosion, a roof collapse or black lung — coal-miner’s pneumoconiosis.

The Federal Coal Mine Health and Safety Act of 1969, among other things, set standards to reduce dust and created the Black Lung Disability Trust to compensate miners who contracted this disease.

The law worked. Over time there was a 90 percent reduction in miners with this ailment. What was accepted by some people as an occupational hazard became unacceptable and companies changed their practices.

But since the 1990s, black lung has rebounded, researchers with the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health say.

The numbers are still well below the level 45 years ago, when the law passed, but the numbers don’t matter. The number of incidences must go down until it is eradicated like smallpox.

Progressive massive fibrosis — one form of black lung — is at its highest rate since the early 1970s for miners in West Virginia, Kentucky and Virginia, according to the research.

The numbers for that form of the disease are 10 times higher than they were in the 1990s.

“When we sat down and looked at this data, we were shocked. It was a much bigger resurgence than we were expecting,” David Blackley with the agency’s office in Morgantown, told the Daily Mail’s Dave Boucher. Blackley is an epidemic intelligence service officer.

Blackley said it is hard to pinpoint the exact cause of this resurgence.

“At the absolute most basic level, the bottom line is these miners, especially in these three states, are breathing in way too much dust,” Blackley said.

Coal companies must do better to protect their workers. If this means better training, do so. If this means better enforcement of safety rules, do so. If that means earlier testing and treatment, do so.

Better self-policing is the best way to avoid government intervention.

— Charleston (W.Va.) Daily Mail

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