Black Lung doctor says disease is making a comeback

By Scott Finn 

Last year marked a low-point for mine safety in America, with forty-seven miners dying on the job, the most in more than a decade. Those deaths receive most of our attention, but black lung disease kills about 1,000 miners in the U.S. last year.  

Earlier this month, reporter Scott Finn visited the home of Larry Vass, a 69-year-old Raleigh County miner who is trying to receive federal black lung benefits. For 27 years, Vass hauled rock and coal in a truck the size of a two-story house. Now, the short walk across his well-manicured lawn to the mailbox leaves him gasping for air.  

Vass: Anytime I go back to the house I’m breathing hard, see…get me some oxygen…On occasions, if they found out the federal mine inspector or the state mine inspector was coming, they’d water it down good the day he was there. Otherwise, you’d eat the dust. Dust all the time. Dust everywhere.  

Finn also attended West Virginia’s annual black lung conference at Pipestem Resort and met with one of the nation’s leading experts in the field: Dr. Robert Cohen, director of the black lung clinic at Stroger Hospital in Chicago.  Cohen says he once thought that black lung would fade away. But recent studies have shown black lung appearing in a new generation of miners.

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