Black lung, known in the scientific community as coal workers’ pneumoconiosis, was back in the news last week. A big law firm has been accused of intentionally withholding information that could have helped some miners collect black lung benefits.
Obviously, state and federal authorities should investigate. If the claim is true, the law firm should be punished severely.
But even if the accusation is true, it affected only a comparative handful of miners. Of much more concern should be the thousands who continue to contract black lung from working in coal mines.
For several years, it appeared federal mine requirements enacted nearly half a century ago were effective in protecting most miners.
But new studies by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health indicate black lung is making a comeback. As many as one-tenth of miners with careers of 25 years or more test positive for black lung, NIOSH found. Even those with fewer years in the mines are at more risk than had been thought previously.
Government and industry scientists need to find out why protective measures do not seem to have worked as well as they seemed to initially. Miners deserve better odds against black lung.