Officials say the number of black lung cases is increasing in our region, and it is even showing up in surface miners now.
The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) is offering free black lung screenings in Eastern Kentucky in hopes of saving lives.
The Centers for Disease Control reports two percent of the surface miners tested have the disease. Officials say 46 of 2,257 surface miners had black lung with twelve having the most severe form. Most of them report they have never worked underground.
"A lot of folks think that's surprising because you know, for years miners have been told they can't get the disease because they're not underground. Drillers and blasters on the surface jobs as well as some other occupations are exposed to high rates and high levels of dust," said Anita Wolfe, NIOSH Public Health Analyst.
Public health analysts say the number of black lung cases in underground miners is also increasing, especially in mines with fewer than 50 workers. The disease is also starting earlier.
"We're seeing disease in miners that are younger than they were in the past," said Wolfe.
Many of the cases are in Eastern Kentucky, Southern West Virginia, and Western Virginia.
"Eastern Kentucky is definitely one of the hot spots where we see high rates of disease and advanced disease among miners," said Wolfe.
NIOSH is focusing on Eastern Kentucky. They are providing free, confidential screenings this summer. The first was Monday in Pineville.
Directors report low turnout so far at the screenings. Due to the increase in black lung cases, directors are encouraging miners to get tested.
"It's paid by your tax dollars, it's free, and it's confidential," said Wolfe.
The screening includes a work history questionnaire, a chest x-ray, and a spirometry test. Blood pressure screening is also offered. The process takes about 25 minutes. NIOSH provides the individual with the results of his or her screening. No individual information, including the names of those participating, is made public or given to coal companies.
Analysts are still trying to pinpoint why younger miners are getting the disease, but say early detection could save their lives.
NIOSH screenings in Eastern Kentucky:
All times are 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m.
June 19th and 20th, Tri-City Medical Center in Cumberland
June 21st, Walmart in Harlan
June 22nd, Senior Center at the Old Beech Fork Elementary School in Helton
June 25th, Whitaker Athletic Center in Jeff/Viper
June 26th and 27th, Grady Nutt Athletic Center at Alice Lloyd College in Pippa Passes
June 28th and 29th, Walmart in Hazard
July 9th, McCoy Elkhorn Mine Number 15 in Meta
July 10th, 11th, and 12th, Pikeville Mine Rescue Contest at the Bob Amos Park in Pikeville
July 13th, Sidney HR Office for Alpha in Sidney
July 16th, Walmart in Pikeville
July 17th, Walmart in Prestonsburg
July 18th, Redhawk Mining Office in Printer
July 19th and 20th, Roy F. Collier Community Center in Inez
Miners can call 1-888-480-4042 to schedule an appointment. Walk-ins are also accepted.