In this election year, politicians are practically shoving opponents aside in their zeal to declare undying love for coal.
Too bad their affection doesn’t extend to the growing number of Kentucky coal miners who are dying from black lung, a largely preventable disease caused by breathing excessive coal dust.
Progressive massive fibrosis, advanced black lung which has no cure and kills by robbing individuals of the ability to breathe, should be obsolete. Like ailments of yesteryear — such as scurvy or smallpox — black lung should have been virtually eradicated through simple safety measures in coal mines.
But astoundingly, the disease is increasing among miners in Kentucky, Virginia and West Virginia at levels not seen in 40 years.
Coal miners in Appalachia are developing serious cases of black lung at rates not seen since the 1970s, around the time Congress passed the Federal Coal Mine Health and Safety Act — sweeping legislation aimed at improving mine safety and limiting coal dust exposure.
Some 40 years later, more than 3 percent of miners are developing the severest form of black lung, according to a government study reported last week.
And Gary Caudill, 64, a retired coal miner from Blackey who suffers from severe black lung, says the cause is no mystery — it’s mine operators skirting the rules.
“Only thing I could figure out is they ain’t doing what they’re supposed to do,” he said.
The stunning finding that the existing rules aren’t working to protect miners from black lung comes as the federal government seeks to further reduce exposure of miners to coal dust, a change that has been fought by the industry and delayed in Congress by GOP lawmakers.
Under pressure, the government watered down rules set to take effect in 2016 that would have cut exposure levels in half. Instead the new rules — the first change in 45 years — reduce by 25 percent the concentration of breathable coal mine dust.
In the current Kentucky Senate race, Republican incumbent Mitch McConnell and Democratic challenger Alison Lundergan Grimes have made protecting coal a priority, claiming saving dwindling coal mining jobs is one of their greatest concerns.
Shouldn’t saving the lives of coal miners from a preventable disease be just as important?
— The Courier-Journal, Louisville