(MCT) IN 1907, the nation lost 3,242 coal miners in underground explosions and other on-the-job incidents. The Monongah Mining disaster, the worst in U.S. history, killed 362 men and children.
Over time, mine safety and regulation improved conditions for the miners. A century later, the United States set a record low of 16 coal miner deaths in 2011.
That is still 16 too many.
But while mine explosions and other accidents pose a danger to miners, a greater killer is unseen. Coalworker’s pneumoconiosis — black lung — kills 25 times as many miners.
Congress first addressed this problem in 1969 by setting tough standards on dust levels. Congress also set a tax on coal to finance the black lung fund, which paid out $44 billion in benefits over its first 40 years.
But after a sharp decline in black lung, the rates have risen in recent years.
“The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health has found that roughly 9 percent of workers with 25 years or more in mines tested positive for black lung in 2005-2006, the latest published data, up from about 4 percent in the late 1990s,” the Wall Street Journal reported in 2009.
“The rates also doubled for people with 20 to 24 years in mining, including many in their 30s and 40s, according to NIOSH, part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.”
This is unacceptable. No one should die mining coal. After 40 years on the job, a man should get a pension, not a debilitating and fatal disability.
Nor should miners be given a hard time when they apply for relief from the Black Lung Disability Trust.
ABC News reported this week on the struggle of Gary Fox to get black lung benefits after 25 years of mining. His proof came in his autopsy. That’s tragic.
The liberal Center for Public Integrity and Fox’s lawyer, John Cline, contend that lawyers at Jackson Kelly withheld information that would have helped Fox and others get these necessary benefits.
Senate President Jeff Kessler, D-Marshall, said the matter will be investigated, as it should be.
But the overarching issue is why coalworker’s pneumoconiosis is on the rise. U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., introduced legislation in July that deserves consideration and bipartisan cooperation.
West Virginia and the rest of the nation owe too much to the coal miner to ignore his situation.
(c) 2013 Charleston Daily Mail (Charleston, W.Va.)
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