Across Appalachia, coal miners are suffering from the most serious form of the deadly mining disease black lung in numbers more than 10 times what federal regulators report, an NPR investigation has found.
The government, through the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, reported 99 cases of “complicated” black lung, or progressive massive fibrosis, throughout the country the last five years.
But NPR obtained data from 11 black lung clinics in Virginia, West Virginia, Pennsylvania and Ohio, which reported a total of 962 cases so far this decade. The true number is probably even higher, because some clinics had incomplete records and others declined to provide data.
“The actual extent of PMF in U.S. coal miners remains unclear,” says the report, which appears in this week’s issue of the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“I can’t say that I’ve heard really anything worse than this in my career,” says Robert Cohen, a pulmonologist at the University of Illinois, Chicago who studies and tracks black lung. “I can’t think of anything in this particular field … that’s more frightening than this,” Cohen adds.
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