Black lung, or coal workers' pneumoconiosis, is an irreversible and potentially deadly disease caused by exposure to coal dust.
One goal of the 1969 federal coal-mine safety law was to eliminate black lung. Deaths declined for years, but experts have been warning since the 1990s that the dust limits need to be tightened. More recently, since 2003, researchers have been documenting an alarming increased incidence of the disease in younger miners, whose entire careers took place under the 1969 law's dust limits.
Last year, a joint investigation by NPR and the Center for Public Integrity, with additional reporting by The Charleston Gazette, documented widespread industry cheating on coal-dust controls and repeated inaction by regulators to try to end the disease.
Between 1996 and 2005, nearly 10,000 coal miners nationwide died of black lung, according to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. West Virginia recorded the second-highest black lung deaths of any state, with more than 1,800 during that period, according to NIOSH.
The National Mining Association did not respond to a request for comment Thursday.
Industry officials have argued that recent increases in black lung rates are a regional problem and don't require a new nationwide rule. But the GAO report supported the conclusions from NIOSH and MSHA about data on the disease.
Reach Ken Ward Jr. at kw...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1702.