Labor head warns of 'frightening uptick' in black lung disease among miners

The head of a national labor union is warning about an uptick in black lung cases among coal miners across the country.

Cecil Roberts, the president of the United Mine Workers of America, said on Hill.TV that black lung and coal field clinics throughout the U.S. have seen more reported cases.

“What we have seen is a frightening uptick in younger miners — when I say younger, people who have been in the industry less than 20 years,” he said.

Black lung — also known as coal workers’ pneumoconiosis (CWP) — refers to a progressive respiratory disease that is caused by the inhalation of toxic coal dust.

Despite federal regulations to protect miners, there has been a recent rise in black lung disease among those who work in underground mines.

According to a 2018 report by the National Institute for Occupational Safety (NIOSH), one in 10 coal miners who have worked in the mines for at least 25 years have black lung. This is 10 percent higher than the previous NIOSH report, which was based on data from 2012.

The report also found that some coal miners in certain regions, like Appalachia, are being disproportionately affected. As many as one in five have been identified as having black lung, which marks the highest level in almost 25 years.

Roberts, who is a sixth generation coal miner, said the U.S. has long been “delinquent” when it comes issues concerning coal miners, particularly when it comes to their health or safety.

“The government hasn’t responded to the needs of miners historically,” he said, noting that the passage of the Federal Coal Mine Health and Safety Act in 1969 was only prompted by an explosion at a mine in Farmington, W.Va., that killed 78 workers.

Roberts has been on Capitol Hill pushing for the passage of legislation aimed at helping secure health and retirement benefits for thousands of retired coal miners in the U.S.

The American Miners Act of 2019, which is sponsored by Sen. Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinToomey on gun reform: 'Beto O'Rourke is not helping' Trump walks tightrope on gun control O'Rourke gun confiscation talk alarms Democrats MORE (D-W.Va.), aims to transfer certain funds to make sure that miners receive their full pensions.

“Right now retired coal miners’ health care pensions and black lung benefits are on the chopping block again,” Manchin said while introducing the bill on the Senate floor in January. 

However, the legislation has faced some pushback from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellToomey on gun reform: 'Beto O'Rourke is not helping' Election meddling has become the new normal of US diplomacy DC statehood push faces long odds despite record support MORE (R-Ky.), who argues that broader pension reform is a better longterm solution as opposed to a single bill tailored to miners.

—Tess Bonn