Donald Trump wants to bring coal back, even though it’s killing miners
In his promises to bring back the coal industry, Trump has conveniently omitted his concern for miners’ health
Charlie May February 7, 2018
(Credit: AP/Steve Helber)
It’s no secret that President Donald Trump has vowed to revitalize the coal industry, an industry that has been on its last legs for probably far too long. But aside from all of the obvious flaws with the president’s logic to turn back the clock on fossil fuels and usher in an era of “clean coal,” one major flaw has been vastly overlooked: mining for coal is a fatally unhealthy means of employment.
In a letter published in the Journal of the American Medical Association on Tuesday, epidemiologists at the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health confirmed “416 cases of progressive massive fibrosis or complicated black lung in three clinics in central Appalachia from 2013 to 2017,” NPR reported. The clinics are run by Stone Mountain Health Services, and they treat coal miners primarily from Virginia, Kentucky and West Virginia.
“This is the largest cluster of progressive massive fibrosis ever reported in the scientific literature,” Scott Laney, a NIOSH epidemiologist who was involved with the study told NPR. “We’ve gone from having nearly eradicated PMF in the mid-1990’s to the highest concentration of cases that anyone has ever seen.”
Clinics would see roughly just under 10 cases per year, but are now seeing them as often as every two weeks — an unprecedented rate that has sparked concern, as well as calls for a national health emergency, NPR reported.
“We are seeing something that we haven’t seen before,” Ron Carson, who directs Stone Mountain’s black lung program, told NPR.
The only cure for the disease is a lung transplant, which is only applicable to miners who can safely undergo such a procedure. There is zero doubt that years of working in coal mines causes this type of lung deterioration, and the industry’s decline has played a significant role as well.
NPR elaborated: PMF, or complicated black lung, encompasses the worst stages of the disease, which is caused by inhalation of coal and silica dust at both underground and surface coal mines. Miners gradually lose the ability to breathe, as they wheeze and gasp for air.
The NPR investigation also found that the likely cause of the epidemic is longer work shifts for miners and the mining of thinner coal seams. Massive mining machines must cut rock with coal and the resulting dust contains silica, which is far more toxic than coal dust. The spike in PMF diagnoses is also due to layoffs and retirements brought on by the decline in coal mining. Miners who had put off getting checked for black lung earlier began streaming into clinics, especially if they needed the medical and wage replacement benefits provided by black lung compensation programs.
PMF cases are also affecting much younger miners. In the 1990’s, for example, PMF was diagnosed to miners who were typically in their 60’s, 70’s and 80’s, while now miners who are in their 50’s, 40’s and even 30’s — all with much less mining experience — have been diagnosed.
The study showed that “a high proportion” of miners had the disease, even with a “coal mining tenure of less than 20 years, which are indications of exceptionally severe and rapidly progressive disease.”
In his pie in the sky pledge to bring the coal industry back to life, put miners back to work and massively produce “clean coal” Trump has utterly failed to acknowledge the health ramifications felt by the American workers he has championed. That’s because his outlandish promises have always been intended for fossil fuel corporations, not its workers.
Charlie May is a news writer at Salon.