LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) - An alarming number of black lung disease cases among coal miners in portions of eastern Kentucky and southwestern Virginia may be caused by "gaps" in efforts to control dust in the mines, according to a study.
"There is something going on, a failure of protection of these miners," said Dr. Edward L. Petsonk, a senior medical officer at the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.
Petsonk and lead author Michael Attfield discovered 37 cases of advanced black lung during screenings conducted in seven counties in the heart of the two states' coal mining operations.
The study, published in a federal medical journal, said finding miners under the age of 50 with several black lung is "particularly concerning because they were exposed to coal-mine dust in the years after implementation of the disease prevention mandated by ... 1969 federal legislation."
Petsonk said the number of "hot spots" of the disease is troubling.
"We are finding more disease among younger miners that can be rapidly progressive," Petsonk said.
Researchers visited 26 sites in seven counties and tested 975 miners. They were asked to fill out questionnaires, given lung-capacity tests and X-rays. Four percent of the miners tested had advanced black lung.
The 37 afflicted miners had worked underground for at least one 10-year interval without a chest X-ray, and 22 had gone two decades without getting one. The federal government offers free, voluntary chest screenings for miners.
The miners told researchers one of the reasons they didn't take the test was fears that their employer may find out the results.
The study said part of the problem is enforcement and compliance with dust-code regulations.
Petsonk said coal dust safety standards could be modified to better protect the miners. He suggested lowering the 2 milligram dust exposure standard to 1 milligram and giving miners "personal dust monitors" so they can track their exposure.
Federal Mine Safety and Health Administration officials have expressed support for the current standard.
Information from: The Courier-Journal, http://www.courier-journal.com
(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)