Black lung is not a thing of the past. Despite advances in ways to reduce the amount of dust involved with mining, coal miners still face a very real work hazard each time they head underground.
In an effort to help underground miners know where their lung health stands the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) Mobile Occupational Safety and Health Unit will be in Campbell County on April 9 and 10 from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. to conduct free black lung screenings.
According to Anita Wolfe, NIOSH public health analyst, Campbell County was chosen as one of the screening sites because it is a “hot spot” for black lung.
“By hot spot we mean research has shown the area has reported a higher than average rate of black lung occurrences or the disease is progressing more rapidly than we regularly see,” Wolfe explained.
While an explanation for the noted hot spots, such as Campbell County, has yet to be determined Wolfe said there is a possibility of a number of mitigating factors including a difference in mine enforcement, differences in the coal seams being mined and the fact that many of the mines in Appalachia require more cutting through hard rocks to get to the coal.
The NIOSH mobile unit is a tool used solely to determine whether a miner is affected by black lung, and does not provide medical care for miners determined to be suffering from the disease.
“Our program has nothing to do with benefits. We provide them (the miners) with information they can take to the doctor of their choice for treatment,” Wolfe said, adding that NIOSH will fulfill any requests for screening results including x-rays at no charge.
The mobile occupational safety and health unit will be at the Tennessee Department of Labor located at 117 Mine Lane, Caryville, on April 9 and 10 from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Testing takes about 30 minutes and includes a short questionnaire, a chest x-ray and a breathing test.
All actively working undergroundcoal miners, those who have worked in the last 90 days, are eligible to participate.
Walk-ins will be accepted. However, miners are encouraged to call 1-888-480-4042 to schedule an appointment.