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.
"In the study that NIOSH just produced, they looked at three clinics in southwestern Virginia which serves coal miners from Virginia, Kentucky and West Virginia. And they identified and confirmed 416 cases of the disease in the previous few years. The study ended about a year ago. That's an astonishing number. NIOSH itself in its own accounting of that disease, found less than 100 cases in the same timeframe nationwide. And here in just three clinics in southwestern Virginia, there are four times as many cases. NPR has been surveying black lung clinics across Appalachia, and our count is up close to two thousand cases in the same timeframe that NIOSH had previously identified only 99. NIOSH itself now recognizes that this as the worst cluster of this disease ever documented. NIOSH has referred to it as one of the worst industrial workplace disasters in American history. It also marks what is a sharp increase in the disease from the 1990s, when researchers believed that it might actually become extinct."
Black lung disease, also known as coal workers' pneumoconiosis, comes from exposure to coal mine dust. Ever since the Federal Coal Mine Health and Safety Act of 1969, which was passed in response to the deaths of 78 miners in West Virginia and implemented stricter safety standards, cases had been declining and virtually eradicated by the 1990s.
Coal worker's pneumoconiosis. The black pigmentation and fibrosis are due to inhalation of carbon pigment and silica respectively in a coal worker. Yale Rosen / Flickr
But the disease roared back in the 2000s and we are now seeing an uptick in progressive massive fibrosis, the most deadly form of black lung, which is
blamed on inhalation of both coal and silica dust from mines.
The upward trend in severe black lung disease has been clear for some time, but “what we’re really learning now is… https://t.co/SmXDtW82Zz— Nadja Popovich (@Nadja Popovich)1519307443.0
According to the New York Times, "scientists have linked the new wave of lung disease to miners breathing in more silica dust, the likely result of a decades-long shift toward mining thinner coal seams that require cutting into the surrounding rock. Silica dust from pulverized rock can damage lungs faster than coal dust alone."
"Modern machinery, insufficient training for workers, and longer work hours may also contribute to increased dust exposure, experts say," the Times added.
"There's an unacceptably large number of younger miners who have end-stage disease and the only choice is to get a lung transplant or wait it out and die," epidemiologist David J. Blackley told the Times.
Despite Trump's Remark, There Is No War On Coal and It's Definitely Not Clean https://t.co/AjOS5Vt3wB @BeyondCoal… https://t.co/eChs9ofkmR— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1517410120.0
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The bright patterns and recognizable designs of Waterlust's activewear aren't just for show. In fact, they're meant to promote the conversation around sustainability and give back to the ocean science and conservation community.
Each design is paired with a research lab, nonprofit, or education organization that has high intellectual merit and the potential to move the needle in its respective field. For each product sold, Waterlust donates 10% of profits to these conservation partners.
Eye-Catching Designs Made from Recycled Plastic Bottles
waterlust.com / @abamabam
The company sells a range of eco-friendly items like leggings, rash guards, and board shorts that are made using recycled post-consumer plastic bottles. There are currently 16 causes represented by distinct marine-life patterns, from whale shark research and invasive lionfish removal to sockeye salmon monitoring and abalone restoration.
One such organization is Get Inspired, a nonprofit that specializes in ocean restoration and environmental education. Get Inspired founder, marine biologist Nancy Caruso, says supporting on-the-ground efforts is one thing that sets Waterlust apart, like their apparel line that supports Get Inspired abalone restoration programs.
"All of us [conservation partners] are doing something," Caruso said. "We're not putting up exhibits and talking about it — although that is important — we're in the field."
Waterlust not only helps its conservation partners financially so they can continue their important work. It also helps them get the word out about what they're doing, whether that's through social media spotlights, photo and video projects, or the informative note card that comes with each piece of apparel.
"They're doing their part for sure, pushing the information out across all of their channels, and I think that's what makes them so interesting," Caruso said.
And then there are the clothes, which speak for themselves.
Advocate Apparel to Start Conversations About Conservation
waterlust.com / @oceanraysphotography
Waterlust's concept of "advocate apparel" encourages people to see getting dressed every day as an opportunity to not only express their individuality and style, but also to advance the conversation around marine science. By infusing science into clothing, people can visually represent species and ecosystems in need of advocacy — something that, more often than not, leads to a teaching moment.
"When people wear Waterlust gear, it's just a matter of time before somebody asks them about the bright, funky designs," said Waterlust's CEO, Patrick Rynne. "That moment is incredibly special, because it creates an intimate opportunity for the wearer to share what they've learned with another."
The idea for the company came to Rynne when he was a Ph.D. student in marine science.
"I was surrounded by incredible people that were discovering fascinating things but noticed that often their work wasn't reaching the general public in creative and engaging ways," he said. "That seemed like a missed opportunity with big implications."
Waterlust initially focused on conventional media, like film and photography, to promote ocean science, but the team quickly realized engagement on social media didn't translate to action or even knowledge sharing offscreen.
Rynne also saw the "in one ear, out the other" issue in the classroom — if students didn't repeatedly engage with the topics they learned, they'd quickly forget them.
"We decided that if we truly wanted to achieve our goal of bringing science into people's lives and have it stick, it would need to be through a process that is frequently repeated, fun, and functional," Rynne said. "That's when we thought about clothing."
Support Marine Research and Sustainability in Style
To date, Waterlust has sold tens of thousands of pieces of apparel in over 100 countries, and the interactions its products have sparked have had clear implications for furthering science communication.
For Caruso alone, it's led to opportunities to share her abalone restoration methods with communities far and wide.
"It moves my small little world of what I'm doing here in Orange County, California, across the entire globe," she said. "That's one of the beautiful things about our partnership."
Check out all of the different eco-conscious apparel options available from Waterlust to help promote ocean conservation.
Melissa Smith is an avid writer, scuba diver, backpacker, and all-around outdoor enthusiast. She graduated from the University of Florida with degrees in journalism and sustainable studies. Before joining EcoWatch, Melissa worked as the managing editor of Scuba Diving magazine and the communications manager of The Ocean Agency, a non-profit that's featured in the Emmy award-winning documentary Chasing Coral.