Black Lung Blockbuster: Democracy Now Interview with Investigator of Upper Big Branch Mine Disaster
In an in-depth interview with Democracy Now’s Amy Goodman today, independent Upper Big Branch coal mine disaster investigator J. Davitt McAteer discussed his new report on Massey Energy’s “systematic failure to comply with the law” on numerous levels, which led to the death of 29 coal miners last year.
But in a stunning reminder of the largely ignored crisis of black lung disease, which kills an estimated 1,000 miners annually, McAteer pointed out that 26 of the 29 coal miners were afflicted with some “sign of black lung.”
Diagnosed in 1831, three coal miners still die daily from this completely avoidable disease.
Currently vice president of Wheeling Jesuit University in West Virginia, and the former assistant secretary of the Mine Safety and Health Administration in the Clinton administration, McAteer told Goodman:
Black lung disease is a disease that coal miners have suffered for centuries. And it is essentially the inhalation of submicron particles of dust that adhere to the lungs and create an inability of the lungs to exchange oxygen. It occurs in miners who are exposed to levels of coal dust that are above the standard level, 2.0 milligrams per cubic meter.
And it occurs in these—in this instance, we found, in this group of miners, some 26 of the miners had some sign of black lung, and that is an astounding number, when you consider that as a general matter, in the population of the country as a whole, it’s three percent, and in the population in West Virginia, it’s roughly six-and-a-half or seven percent. We were shocked by this finding and shocked by the age of the miners who had it. These are quite young miners, and these are some miners who don’t have much experience underground. So it was disturbing to us, and it is disturbing to us, that we have this potential problem, and it’s something that we need to look at very carefully.
Here’s the video clip:
Last fall, the White House announcedan “End Black Lung” campaign.
With the revelations from McAteer’s Upper Big Branch report on criminal evasion of workplace regulations, it makes you wonder if the continual Big Coal denial and lack of government enforcement on black lung disease deserve a criminal investigation as well.