Hundreds of Cases of Black Lung Identified in Appalachia

Published February 14, 2018

​A letter published by NIOSH researchers in the Feb. 6 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association confirms 416 cases of progressive massive fibrosis, also known as complicated black lung disease, from 2013 through 2017 in three clinics in Appalachia. Scott Laney, an epidemiologist with NIOSH, told National Public Radio that the findings represent “the largest cluster of progressive massive fibrosis ever reported.”

The cluster was discovered in a region that encompasses parts of Virginia, West Virginia, and Kentucky.

Progressive massive fibrosis, the most severe form of black lung disease, was previously thought to be nearly eradicated due to improvements in working conditions in coal mines following implementation of the Federal Coal Mine Health and Safety Act of 1969. Between 1990 and 1999, NIOSH’s Coal Worker Health Surveillance Program identified just 31 unique cases of the disease, according to a December 2016 issue of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

An earlier NPR investigation had uncovered hundreds of cases of progressive massive fibrosis in Kentucky, Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Ohio, and attributed the likely causes to longer work shifts and the mining of thinner coal seams.