August 17, 2008

State Black Lung Cases Above National Average

A higher percentage of West Virginia coal miners tests positive for black lung disease than the national average.

About 13 percent of the state's coal miners who've had chest X- ray screenings are found to have the respiratory ailment, which is caused by exposure to coal dust. The national average is 9 percent, according to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.

West Virginia is the nation's second largest coal producer and usually accounts for up to 25 percent of the nation's black lung benefit applications, said Richard Hanna, Charleston district director for the Department of Labor's Division of Coal Mine Workers' Compensation.

Last year's number of claims from West Virginia - 1,050 out of a total of 4,900 - came out to 21.4 percent.

More claims are filed when there's a downturn in the industry and miners are getting laid off or retiring, said Hanna.

Hanna's office and another division office in Parkersburg administer claims filed under the Black Lung Benefits Act. The act provides compensation to miners disabled by pneumoconiosis and to their survivors. The miners also can receive medical coverage.

The push for a federal black lung program came after the Farmington mine explosion, which killed 78 workers in 1968, brought attention to working conditions in coal mines.

- The Associated Press

(c) 2008 Charleston Gazette, The. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All rights Reserved.