Quantcast
Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life

Help Support EcoWatch

Coal Miners With Black Lung Brace for COVID-19

Health + Wellness
A retired West Virginia miner suffering from black lung visits a doctor for tests. Andrew Lichtenstein / Corbis via Getty Images

In some states like West Virginia, coal mines have been classified as essential services and are staying open during the COVID-19 pandemic, even though the close quarters miners work in and the known risks to respiratory health put miners in harm's way during the spread of the coronavirus.


In Appalachia, miners with pneumoconiosis, or black lung disease, are at particularly high risk of coronavirus, according to HuffPost. Official statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) put the number of underground coal miners with black lung disease at one in 10, though experts estimate the number could be 20 percent or higher.

When someone has black lung disease, scarring in the respiratory tract makes breathing labored. The notion of adding exposure to a severe respiratory illness like COVID-19 has some workers terrified, according to HuffPost. Furthermore, the communities where coal miners live tend to have higher than average comorbidities like obesity and diabetes.

Appalachians, for example are more likely than other Americans to have ailments such as cancer, heart disease and diabetes, due in part to smoking and a more sedentary lifestyle, according to the Appalachian Regional Commission, all of which could complicate the effects of COVID-19.

"Nobody knows what this virus is going to do when it gets to this area," said Jimmy Moore, a 74-year-old black lung patient in Shelby Gap, Kentucky, to HuffPost. "It's probably just going to wipe us out."

The age of many black lung sufferers also complicates exposure to the coronavirus, according to Anna Allen, a West Virginia doctor who cares for black lung patients, as Bloomberg reported.

In Australia, which has a robust coal mining industry and a significant portion of GDP derived from exporting coal to China and India, there have been drastic improvements since 2015 to improve working conditions for miners. However, miners with long-term exposure have most likely already had their lungs damaged but may not know it yet.

"The disease usually takes a minimum of five years to 10 years in very heavy exposure to develop, and a bit longer if the exposures are not so heavy," said Dr. Robert Cohen, the medical director of the Black Lung Center of Excellence at the University of Illinois, to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. "So we're not likely going to see that for a little bit of time yet in terms of the effect of new dust controls. While we are getting a number of new cases, I think that in some ways we are gathering up these cases that were probably undiagnosed and hadn't been paid attention to before."

Cohen said that people with black lung disease exposed to coronavirus would face severe complications.

"Coronavirus is definitely worse in people who have underlying lung disease," he said to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

"We actually closed all our black lung clinics and we're asking miners not to come in for exams at the moment. We don't think it's worth the risk {of} them being in hospitals and clinics where sick people are at this time."

"We are seriously worried about our population out here," said Teresa Tyson, president and CEO of The Health Wagon, which operates free clinics in Wise, Virginia, and surrounding counties, to HuffPost. She added that her father is a former coal miner who has black lung. COVID-19 "would be a nail in the coffin," she said.

Tyson's clinic tried to make sure all her black lung patients had three months of medicine and frequently check in by phone or video. In nearby West Virginia, however, many rural black lung patients have neither the technology nor broadband service for telemedicine, according to Dan Doyle, who runs a breathing clinic in West Virginia, as HuffPost reported.

Despite pleas for social distancing, Doyle said he hasn't seen much change in mining operations in recent weeks. Mine workers are also still walking around town as usual, he said, possibly spreading the virus without knowing.

"It looks to me like they're going about their business," Doyle said to HuffPost. "Until their co-workers start falling ill, I don't think they're going to change. A lot of people here are not convinced they need to do anything."

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

By Samantha Hepburn

In the expansion of its iron ore mine in Western Pilbara, Rio Tinto blasted the Juukan Gorge 1 and 2 — Aboriginal rock shelters dating back 46,000 years. These sites had deep historical and cultural significance.

Read More Show Less
Meadow Lake wind farm in Indiana. Anthony / CC BY-ND 2.0

By Tara Lohan

The first official tallies are in: Coronavirus-related shutdowns helped slash daily global emissions of carbon dioxide by 14 percent in April. But the drop won't last, and experts estimate that annual emissions of the greenhouse gas are likely to fall only about 7 percent this year.

Read More Show Less
Andrey Nikitin / iStock / Getty Images Plus

By Adrienne Santos-Longhurst

Plants are awesome. They brighten up your space and give you a living thing you can talk to when there are no humans in sight.

Turns out, having enough of the right plants can also add moisture (aka humidify) indoor air, which can have a ton of health benefits.

Read More Show Less
A bald eagle chick inside a nest in Rutland, Massachusetts. Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife
A bald eagle nest with eggs has been discovered in Cape Cod for the first time in 115 years, according to the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife (Mass Wildlife), as Newsweek reported.
Read More Show Less
The office of Rover.com sits empty with employees working from home due to the coronavirus pandemic on March 12 in Seattle, Washington. John Moore / Getty Images

The office may never look the same again. And the investment it will take to protect employees may force many companies to go completely remote. That's after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued new recommendations for how workers can return to the office safely.

Read More Show Less
Frederic Edwin Church's The Icebergs reveal their danger as a crush vessel is in the foreground of an iceberg strewn sea, 1860. Buyenlarge / Getty Images

Scientists and art historians are studying art for signs of climate change and to better understand the ways Western culture's relationship to nature has been altered by it, according to the BBC.

Read More Show Less

Trending

Esben Østergaard, co-founder of Lifeline Robotics and Universal Robots, takes a swab in the World's First Automatic Swab Robot, developed with Thiusius Rajeeth Savarimuthu, professor at the Maersk Mc-Kinney Moller Institute at The University of Southern Denmark. The University of Southern Denmark

By Richard Connor

The University of Southern Denmark on Wednesday announced that its researchers have developed the world's first fully automatic robot capable of carrying out throat swabs for COVID-19.

Read More Show Less