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Worst form of black lung is roaring back

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The worst type of black lung disease now affects a larger share of Appalachian coal miners than at any time since the 1970s, government researchers warned in a new data analysis published Monday.

Experts at the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health said the finding highlights the resurgence of a deadly worker disease that was once close to being eliminated across the coalfields.

“Each of these cases is a tragedy and represents a failure among all those responsible for preventing this severe disease,” the NIOSH researchers wrote in a letter published Monday in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine.

The letter cited NIOSH data showing that by 2012, the rate of the most severe form of black lung had reached 3.2 percent of workers in the Central Appalachian coalfields of Southern West Virginia and Eastern Kentucky, a nearly tenfold increase over the disease prevalence 15 years earlier.

In 1969, when it passed landmark mine safety legislation, Congress made eliminating black lung a national goal. The law required mine operators to take steps to limit exposure to coal dust. Black lung was reduced significantly, but at least in part because of industry cheating on dust samples, the law has fallen far short of its goals.

The new data focuses on progressive massive fibrosis, an advanced, debilitating and lethal form of coal worker’s pneumoconiosis with few treatment options and no cure…

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