Pittsburgh, PA - The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) will provide free, confidential health screenings to working underground coal miners in 16 counties throughout West Virginia this year to provide early detection of coal workers' pneumoconiosis, a serious but preventable 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 April 7-19, 2008, in Randolph, Upshur, Webster, Nicholas, and Fayette Counties, WV. The full itinerary is expected to include locations in Wyoming, McDowell, Boone, Logan, Mingo, Wayne, Kanawha, Grant, Harrison, Barbour, and Preston Counties. Further 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.
"As with any illness, early detection is the key to directing timely treatment and intervention," said NIOSH Director John Howard, M.D. "Much like any other physical check-up, the NIOSH health screening involves minimal time and effort by participants. The results of this minimal investment can be critical for miners' health, quality of life, and family peace of mind."
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 has recently increased. The current national rate is 9 percent, double the national rate in 1995. The current rate for long-term miners in West Virginia is even higher, 13 percent. 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: http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/topics/surveillance/ORDS/ecwhsp.html or via the toll free number 1-888-480-4042.