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Time to win the war on black lung disease

THE Mine Health and Safety Administration is scheduled to cut in half the amount of coal dust allowed in coal mines in an effort to eliminate coalworkers' pneumoconiosis -- black lung -- according to Ken Ward of the Charleston Gazette.

Good. This effort to finally eradicate black lung is overdue. No one should die mining coal.

While the Obama administration and the Labor Department have dilly-dallied and dragged their feet on black lung, so have previous administrations, Democratic and Republican alike. This is a bipartisan effort to ignore the coal miner.

The federal government first took on black lung in 1969. Before then, black lung was accepted as an occupational hazard as were many job-related illnesses in other lines of work.

Society no longer finds such suffering acceptable and rightly so.

In the past 44 years, federal mandates helped lead to great improvements in coal mine safety and the reduction of black lung, but new mining techniques may have led to an increase in black lung, according to Chris Hamby with the Center for Public Integrity.

"Amid my reporting, I encountered pervasive misconceptions about the disease. The first is that black lung is an old man's illness, a relic of a past era of mining. The second: With coal on the decline, black lung is slowly fading into obscurity," Hamby wrote.

As black lung crept up in recent years, the Labor Department has paid lip service to the problem, promising in an August 2009 press release from Beckley to fight the problem and change the rules

More than four years later, the bureaucrats are still working on the rules. It took America less time to fight and win World War II. Department officials keep mentioning they are working with stakeholders on the problem.

There are exactly two stakeholders in war on coalworkers' pneumoconiosis: the right lung and the left lung of each miner.

If we can save the whale, the polar bear and the snail darter, we should be able to save the coal miner, who still produces 40 percent of this nation's electricity.


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