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NIOSH Announces 2009 Schedule for Free, Confidential Screening of Coal Miners for Coal Workers’ Pneumoconiosis


February 11, 2009
NIOSH Update:

Contact: Fred Blosser (202) 245-0645

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) will provide free, confidential health screenings to working underground coal miners in 13 counties throughout Pennsylvania, Kentucky, Tennessee, Ohio, and West Virginia this year to provide early detection of coal workers’ pneumoconiosis, a serious but preventable occupational lung disease also known as “black lung.”

The health screenings will be provided through a state-of-the-art NIOSH mobile testing van at convenient community locations. The first visit is scheduled for March 8-21, 2009, in Greene County, Pennsylvania. The full itinerary is expected to include locations in Bell, Union, Webster, and Hopkins Counties, Kentucky; Campbell County, Tennessee; Belmont County, Ohio; Marshall County, West Virginia; and Washington, Somerset, Cambria, Indiana, and Armstrong Counties, Pennsylvania. Final details are currently being worked out.

Under the Federal Mine Safety & Health Act of 1977, all working underground coal miners are eligible for chest x-ray screening at no cost to them. The screening provided by NIOSH will include a chest x-ray, a breathing test and a one-on-one interview to identify potential health concerns. Typically, the process takes about 30 minutes. NIOSH provides the individual with the results of his or her own screening, but by law each person’s screening remains confidential. No individual information is publicly disclosed, including the names of participating miners.

“The x-ray screening provided by NIOSH is vitally important for detecting coal workers’ pneumoconiosis in individual miners to allow for early intervention and treatment, said NIOSH Acting Director Christine M. Branche, Ph.D. “Results of the screening also provide NIOSH and its partners with data for determining trends and patterns in this preventable occupational disease, and for guiding efforts to protect working underground coal miners from harmful exposures. After a significant decrease from the 1970s to the 1990s, we have seen a troubling increase in advanced cases among veteran miners whom we have screened more recently. These findings indicate that we must remain vigilant.”

Coal workers’ pneumoconiosis is caused by inhaling coal mine dust. Early on, the disease may show few or no symptoms. However, it can progress and cause scarring of the lungs and shortness of breath. In advanced cases, this can lead to disability and death.

The disease is not curable but it is preventable. Miners who participate in health screening have the best chance for detecting any injuries to the lungs at an early stage, when steps can be taken to reduce further exposures to coal mine dust and prevent the disease from progressing.

In addition to helping individual miners, the health screening program provides important information about coal workers’ pneumoconiosis. The prevalence of coal workers’ pneumoconiosis among long-term miners who participated in chest x-ray screening decreased from the 1970s to the 1990s. However, the rate of disease in miners participating in the NIOSH program has recently increased. The current rate for miners participating in the NIOSH Program and having a tenure in coal mining of at least 25 years is 9 percent nationally, double the national rate in 1995. Knowing the frequency of the disease and who may be at risk is important for determining how to prevent it.

NIOSH encourages miners and their families to find out additional information about the Program at the following website: or via the toll free number 1-888-480-4042.

Among the resources available from NIOSH is the educational video, “Faces of Black Lung,” in which two miners with CWP share their stories and provide insight on how their lives have changed due to this devastating disease.

NIOSH is the federal agency that conducts research and makes recommendations to prevent work-related injuries, illnesses, and deaths. NIOSH has been conducting health surveillance to better understand and prevent coal workers’ pneumoconiosis for more than 35 years. The health surveillance outreach for underground coal miners is part of a strategic NIOSH program of research and recommendations to prevent occupational illnesses, traumatic injuries and deaths, catastrophic fatalities, and long-term, disabling injuries in mining.

More information on NIOSH is available at