Read the report here.CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- New disclosures by a nonprofit journalism organization provide more evidence that the federal government needs to move more quickly to force the coal industry to eliminate black lung disease, mine safety advocates said this week.
United Mine Workers union spokesman Phil Smith said the reports from the Center for Public Integrity underscore the need for the Obama administration to finalize new black lung protection rules.
"We know what causes black lung and we know how to prevent it," Smith said. "That people are still getting black lung means that either the respirable dust standards are too low or the companies aren't abiding by those standards -- or both."
Smith and some other mine safety advocates spoke after publication this week of a three-part black lung series by Center for Public Integrity investigative reporter Chris Hamby.
The series examined the aggressive approach taken by coal industry law firm Jackson Kelly to fighting coal miner claims for black lung benefits and raised questions about testimony in those cases by doctors from Johns Hopkins University.
On Friday, the latest story detailed the coal industry's efforts to discredit science linking coal dust exposure to a range of lung ailments. It focused on Ted Latusek, a miner who has been fighting for 19 years to win benefits because of the abnormal scarring that has consumed large portions of his lungs.
The company where Latusek worked, Consol Energy, insists that coal dust isn't the cause of his disease. However, medical evidence has increasingly shown the pattern of scarring Latusek has to be a previously unrecognized type of black lung.
"The fight over the answer to that question goes to the heart of the newest battle in a longstanding war between companies and miners," the Center for Public Integrity said. "Latusek's legal tussle is the signal case in the latest effort by the coal industry to deny emerging scientific evidence and contain its liabilities, a strategy that has played out repeatedly over more than a century and locked multitudes of miners out of the benefits system."
Celeste Monforton, a former federal Mine Safety and Health Administration staffer and public health researcher, called it "shameful" for the industry to argue that a miner's dust-related lung disease is not related to his work.
"Let's not forget that, for years, the coal operators -- and the physicians who manufactured uncertainty about health effects -- insisted that breathing coal dust was not dangerous and black lung was not a disease," Monforton said.
Officials from the National Mining Association would not comment on Hamby's stories.