Key findings:

  • After decades of decline, black lung is back. Its resurgence is concentrated in central Appalachia. Younger miners are increasingly getting the most severe, fastest-progressing form of the disease.
  • The system for monitoring miners’ exposure to the dust that causes black lung allows companies to cheat or exploit loopholes.  From 2000 to 2011, the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration, MSHA, received more than 53,000 valid samples showing an underground miner had been exposed to more dust than was allowed, yet the agency issued just under 2,400 violations. This may be attributable, in part, to rules that allow samples to be averaged, potentially masking some miners’ high exposures.
  • Even when companies get caught, they have little to fear. They can take five of their own dust samples to prove compliance, and an MSHA citation goes away. The agency has routinely given companies extra time to fix cited dust problems, granting extensions in 57 percent of cases between 2000 and 2011.
  • Miners have been exposed for years to excessive amounts of toxic silica dust, generated when powerful machines cut through rock.  In each of the past 25 years, the average valid silica sample was above the allowed limit.