Hundreds of coal miners throughout the Appalachia region have been diagnosed with deadly black lung disease in recent years. The American Thoracic Society (ATS) released research that suggests the spike in disease contraction is not caused directly by exposure to coal particles in the air, but instead silica dust. The dust masks and breathing regulators provided to coal miners are generally only rated to filter coal dust, not silica dust, allowing these particulates to bypass the filter and cause lung damage.
According to the ATS, coal mines throughout Appalachia — but in Eastern Kentucky and Southwest Virginia, especially — have begun using new mining techniques in recent years to target “coal seams” surrounded by silica rock. The technique stirs up clouds of silica dust in the process, which miners unknowingly breathe in. The correlation between the newly instituted mining method and the sharp rise of black lung diagnoses appears to be too strong to be mere coincidence.
Currently, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Mine Safety and Health Administration does not have any regulations that classify or pertain to silica dust specifically. Instead, safety regulations clump silica dust with all other types of particulates, like coal dust. The generalization of these types of dust that are actually quite different in nature, structure, and mineral composition has likely contributed to the inefficiency of dust masks and breathing regulators that are designed to primarily filter coal dust.
How Serious Is the Black Lung Issue?
According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health research, as little as 5% of coal miners in the Appalachia region suffered from black lung at the turn of the century. However, in 2017, it was found that black lung diagnoses more than quadrupled. This sharp rise is contrary to expected projections, which predicted black lung diagnoses to drop as safety equipment, preventative technology, and medical care improved with time.
In 2016, more than 60 cases of severe black lung or progressive massive fibrosis were identified in Eastern Kentucky. To put it into perspective, about 30 cases were identified across the entire country throughout the entirety of the 90s.
(You can learn more about the ongoing issue of black lung disease among Appalachia coal miners by clicking here and viewing a full article from the Lexington Herald Leader.)
Potential Lawsuits in Response to Dust Mask Failures
At Hare Wynn in Lexington, Kentucky, we have represented hundreds of coal miners that have contracted black lung due to defective dust masks. Given the lack of regulations regarding silica dust exposure and control, the dust masks provided to these miners were unable to adequately filter silica dust. It is our goal to help hardworking coal miners determine liability for the safety regulation failures that caused their disease, and seek compensation on behalf of afflicted miners and their families.
Please contact us at 855-965-1688 if you regularly wore your coal dust mask, have black lung, and need legal consultation on your rights and options. Free initial case evaluations are available.