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A truck is loaded with coal at a mine on Aug. 26, 2019 near Cumberland, Kentucky. Scott Olson / Getty Images

By Jake Johnson

Some of the largest coal companies in the United States are using the coronavirus crisis to pressure Congress to slash the tax that finances the Black Lung Disability Trust Fund, a lifeline for more than 20,000 miners whose lung disease makes them more vulnerable to COVID-19.

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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.

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EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

In a study released this month by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), federal researchers identified more than 400 cases of complicated black lung in three clinics in southwestern Virginia between 2013 and 2017—the largest cluster ever reported.

However, the actual number of cases is likely much, much higher as the government analysis relied on self-reporting. An ongoing investigation from NPR has counted nearly 2,000 cases diagnosed since 2010 across Appalachia.

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