(Reuters) – More than 10 percent of America’s coal miners with 25 or more years of experience have black lung disease, the highest rate recorded in roughly two decades, according to a government study released on Thursday that showed cases concentrated heavily in central Appalachia.
The study by researchers from the government’s National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health marks the most authoritative evidence to date of a resurgence of the incurable respiratory illness caused by coal dust, which plagued miners in the 1970s but was nearly eradicated by the 1990s.
“Although many consider black lung a disease of antiquity, it is undeniable that … these contemporary cases resulted from injurious exposures encountered in the 21st century,” the authors said in the report, published in the American Journal of Public Health.
The National Mining Association, which represents U.S. coal mining companies, has cast doubt on assertions that black lung disease is rebounding, arguing that miners are not required to participate in screenings.
“The exclusion of healthy individuals who self-select out of the program may skew the results – we won’t know until more data is available,” said NMA spokeswoman Ashley Burke.