Surface Coal Miners Get Black Lung Too

Jun 19, 2012

A new study shows black lung disease isn’t limited to just coal miners who work underground.  Studies for coal workers’ pneumoconiosis—or black lung disease—haven’t been done on surface miners in a decade, and the miners were commonly thought to be less at risk for the disease than underground workers. 

Surface mines are open to the air, after all, and underground coal mines have frequent dust issues caused by mining in constricted spaces without much ventilation. But the new study shows that surface miners get black lung, too. Dr. Edward Petsonk is with the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health’s Division of Respiratory Disease.

 “A lot of the miners who had this most severe form of the dust disease had never worked underground. So this really, in a new way, indicts the exposures on the surface,” says Petsonk.

Petsonk says the data shows that dust controls aren’t adequate at surface mines, and that surface miners need to be screened regularly for signs of black lung.