CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- West Virginia coal miners continue to die from black lung, despite working under coal dust levels that are currently legal, according to a soon-to-be-published study by researchers at West Virginia University.
The study adds to the arguments by the Obama administration in favor of its proposal to toughen the legal limits for coal dust allowed in underground mines, according to one of the lead authors.
"This is no longer something we can just sit on our hands about," said Dr. Edward L. Petsonk<co >, a WVU physician and black lung expert who wrote the new study with Dr. W. Alex Wade, a pulmonary fellow at the WVU School of Medicine.
The study is being published in Chest, the peer-reviewed journal of the American College of Chest Physicians. A summary is available online and Petsonk discussed the paper in a presentation last week at Wheeling Jesuit University's fourth annual International Mining Health and Safety Symposium.
"This report points out the continuing toll in severe disease and death caused by exposure to coal mine dust and highlights the urgency of acting to end black lung," said Dr. Greg Wagner, deputy assistant secretary for policy at the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration.
The study examined progressive lung disease in 138 West Virginia coal miners whose benefit claims were approved by the state Occupational Pneumoconiosis Board between January 2000 and December 2009.
It found the disease progressed in an average of 12 years from normal chest X-rays until progressive massive fibrosis, or PMF, was detected. The board confirmed 21 deaths among the group, the study said.
"Contemporary occupational dust exposures have resulted over the last decade in rapidly progressive pneumoconiosis and massive fibrosis in relatively young West Virginia coal miners, leading to important dysfunctional and premature death," according to the study summary.
Black lung, or coal workers' pneumoconiosis, is actually a collection of debilitating and potentially fatal ailments caused by breathing coal dust.