Sometimes the impact of a Center for Public Integrity investigation is both immediate and substantial. That’s been the case for our latest black lung series published last week, "Breathless and Burdened."
After spending a year on this project, Reporter Chris Hamby told the story of how a major law firm and a prestigious hospital have been able to prevent coal miners suffocating with black lung disease from receiving federal benefits. He produced detailed and powerful reporting based on data and documents, like so much of the Center’s best work.
These reports have already yielded important reactions:
- Johns Hopkins Medicine has suspended its black lung x-ray reading service, pending a review. Our reporting, in collaboration with ABC News, revealed how medical opinions from doctors at Johns Hopkins helped coal companies block ailing mine workers from receiving disability benefits. The coal industry has paid the hospital millions of dollars over the years for its services.
- United States senators from coal country have begun working on new legislation to address “troubling concerns” raised by our reporting. U.S. Sen. Robert P. Casey, D-Pa., said it’s “imperative that miners receive fair treatment and are not victimized at any point in the system.” Casey said he is “working closely with Senator (Jay) Rockefeller to develop new legislation to address this problem.” Rockefeller, D-W.Va., called the treatment of coal miners a “national disgrace.”
- In an interview Monday, a top U.S. Department of Labor official acknowledged there were problems with the current law, and said the agency is helping the two senators craft legislation to reform the black lung benefits system.
- And Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO, wrote in a column on Monday that the Center’s reporting “lays bare for the public something miners and their families in the coal fields have known for decades. Coal companies, their lawyers and their hand-picked doctors will go to any length — ethical or not — to deny the small monthly benefits that stricken miners are due under the Black Lung Benefits Act."