Coal miner Doug Rutherford takes a break after his shift at a small mine on May 19, 2017 outside the city of Welch, West Virginia.

Coal miner Doug Rutherford takes a break after his shift at a small mine on May 19, 2017 outside the city of Welch, West Virginia.

A multi-year investigation published by Frontline and NPR reached devastating conclusions about the outbreak of advanced black lung disease affecting Appalachia.

The report found that federal government regulators failed to respond to warning signs ahead of the outbreak. Regulators were “were urged to take specific and direct action to stop it.” But they didn’t.

From the story:

It’s an “epidemic” and “clearly one of the worst industrial medicine disasters that’s ever been described,” said Scott Laney, an epidemiologist at the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.

“We’re counting thousands of cases,” he said. “Thousands and thousands and thousands of black lung cases. Thousands of cases of the most severe form of black lung. And we’re not done counting yet.”

The reporters spoke to Danny Smith, who spent about 12 years underground in the mines. His father suffered from the same disease.

“It’s [been] eating at me for the last two years,” he said, “that I’m going to die over this. … Of all the things that could’ve killed me while I did work there, the rockfalls and all that stuff, I lived through all of that. And I find out years later I’m going to die over black lung. And it’s heartbreaking.”

Smith then mentioned his wife and two daughters and wondered what will happen to them when he’s gone. He wondered about the grandchildren he may never see. His voice breaking again, he talked about the excitement of being a young miner, about the hope and promise of good pay and good lives.

“We was all young and strong and stout and they took advantage of us. Every one of us is either crippled or dead. We was all young men,” he said, crying softly.

President Trump promised to help coal miners. And the industry has added 2,000 jobs (although economists say that figure is not statistically significant). But what has President Trump — or his predecessors — done for their health and safety? And what can be done?


  • Charles Shortridge Diagnosed with black lung disease, worked in the mines for over 25 years.
  • Howard Berkes Correspondent - Investigations, NPR, @hberkes
  • Davitt McAteer Former Assistant Secretary, Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA), 1993-2000, retired attorney
  • Amy Harder Reporter covering energy and climate, Axios; former reporter, The Wall Street Journal; @AmyAHarder

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