Breathless and Burdened

The United States of America runs on energy (as well as Dunkin’), much of which is attained through coal. The most important uses of coal are for electricity, steel production, cement manufacturing and liquid fuel. Many men and women go into these mines so that we can keep living ours fast and efficiently.


However, as coal miners keep breathing in the thick, polluted air, problems begin to develop overtime. The most common illness to arise is known as black lung. Black lung is not just one disease, but rather an umbrella term covering any pulmonary disease that is caused from the inhalation and accumulation of coal dust. The workers are aware that they are at risk of getting black lung but continue to work under hazardous conditions so that they and their families have a life. This is evident in the case of Ted Latusek, who began working in the mines at the age of 20. Two decades later, Latusek began showing signs of disease. When he testified against the coal companies, he never got the benefits he deserved. Latusek’s case occurs repeatedly with many other coal miners that are told the scars on their lungs and breathing ailments are not due to labor, but rather from something else.

The issue of the coal industry refusing to recognize black lung as a disease dates all the way back to the 1930s. I was quite shocked by the opening paragraph in Chris Hamby’s, “A century of denial on black lung.” Seeing that picture of Congressmen Ken Hechler holding that bologna sausage as he compared it to black lung was insulting and in bad taste towards the coal miners that could possibly be at risk. It just goes to show that big companies are only concerned with big money and productivity, without any regard to the worker’s health. According to the National Mining Association, the average wage for all U.S. coal miners in 2012 was $81,46. This amount, unfortunately, is not enough for the transplants, check ups, CT scans, x-rays or any other necessary procedures workers may need.

Thanks to the Breathless and Burdened investigation, the black lung issue has been brought to the attention of many. It helped reveal how doctors and lawyers work on behalf of the coal companies in return for the large amounts of money. In one of the comments, a respiratory therapist wrote, “ One of the Drs. I worked with was paid to testify by Coal Mining companies to be an ‘expert witness’ to testify against the miners. His income was nearly a million dollars.” The accuracy of this statement is questionable but, if true it’s a horrible reality. Rather than paying off doctors and lawyers to shift the causes of black lung, coal industries should be investing in precautions such as making it mandatory for workers to wear face masks.


The coal industry will finally make changes thanks to the government. According to a recent Bloomberg article, “The Obama administration ordered a 25% cut in the levels of coal dust in US mines to reduce deadly black lung disease” to be effective starting August 1st. In addition, workers will also be equipped with a personal dust monitor that will allow miners to see how much coal dust exposure they are experiencing. These new regulations will cost operators less than one percent of industry revenue.


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