Doctors floored by epidemic levels of black lung in Appalachian coal miners

Doctors floored by epidemic levels of black lung in Appalachian coal miners

An epidemic of severe and rapidly progressive black lung disease is emerging among coal miners in Appalachia. Case counts from just three clinics in the region reveal the highest disease levels that doctors have ever reported, according to a study published in JAMA this week.

Between January 2013 and February 2017, researchers at the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health documented 416 coal miners with the condition. Prior to the discovery, researchers largely thought that black lung cases were a thing of the past. Diagnoses have been rare since the late 1990s

The clinics, run by Stone Mountain Health Services, would typically see five to seven cases each year, Ron Carson, who directs Stone Mountain's black lung program told NPR. Now, the clinics see that many in two weeks, he said. And in the past year, they’ve diagnosed 154 cases.

“That’s an indication that it’s not slowing down,” Carson said. "We are seeing something that we haven’t seen before.”

Black lung is caused by exposure to coal dust. The dust builds up in the lungs and causes inflammation, fibrosis, and eventual tissue death. The disease is fatal and can only be cured with a lung transplant.

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Doctors floored by epidemic levels of black lung in Appalachian coal miners | Ars Technica
The cases are more severe, and miners are dying younger.

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