The Shelton Law Group (1-888-761-7204) represents Kentucky and West Virginia coal miners with work-related injuries.  Two of the most common injuries we see are Black Lung Disease and Progressive Massive Fibrosis.  Below are answers to some of the common questions we receive from our clients in Kentucky and West Virginia:

What is black lung disease?

Black lung disease is any lung disease that develops from the inhalation of coal dust.  The name is derived from the appearance of the lungs, rather than appearing pink in their natural state, inhalation of coal dust penetrates the lungs making them become black in color.  There are two forms of black lung disease:  (1) coal workers’ pneumoconiosis (CWP) and (2) progressive massive fibrosis (PMF).

The inhalation of coal dust will accumulate in the lungs and increase the risk of developing emphysema and chronic bronchitis, as well as the development of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (otherwise known as COPD).

What causes coal workers’ pneumoconiosis?

The inhalation and accumulation of coal dust causes coal workers’ pneumoconiosis (CWP).  Kentucky and West Virginia coal workers are exposed to coal dust when working in coal mines, coal trimming (loading and stowing coal for storage), mining or milling graphite, manufacturing carbon electrodes and carbon black (a compound used in tires and other rubber goods).  Symptoms may appear to get worse during exposure to the dust or after exposure has ceased because CWP is a reaction to accumulated dust in the lungs.  The severity of CWP will depend on the type of coal mine and the work environment containing the dust.

How does CWP progress in a worker?

CWP begins when coal dust is inhaled and then accumulates in the lungs.  Some people may not experience any noticeable symptoms or effect on their quality of life.  As CWP progresses and becomes progressive massive fibrosis (PMF), a cough and shortness of breath develops, along with increased mucus causing moderate to severe airway obstruction.  Quality of life then decreases.

Although smoking may add to lung damage and/or contribute to the development of COPD, it does not increase the pervasiveness of CWP, nor does it affect the development of CWP.  Coal workers who smoke are therefore at a much greater risk of developing COPD than non-smoking coal workers.

How does CWP affect a worker’s lungs?

Because the lungs are unable to expel accumulated coal dust, a coal macule may form.  A coal macule is a combination of coal dust and macrophages.  As the disease progresses, macules can develop into a coal nodule, which is an abnormality of the lung tissue.  Over time, a type of emphysema and fibrosis may develop.

Lung nodules wider than 1 cm have been accepted as evidence of PMF, although some organizations say a minimum width of 2 cm is necessary.  Nodules may grow and hinder or stop the airflow in the lungs’ airways.

Can CWP be diagnosed?

CWP is diagnosed through an occupational history and chest x-ray.  Lung function tests may be utilized in determining the severity of the lung damage.

Occupational history is very important to the diagnosis of CWP in that if a person has not been exposed to coal dust he/she cannot have CWP.  The occupational history should include not only recent and past full-time employment, but includes summer jobs, student jobs, military history and short-term or part-time jobs.

The diagnosis of CWP has legal and public health implications as some states require that all cases of the disease be reported.

Can CWP be prevented?

The only way to prevent or avoid developing CWP is to not inhale coal dust.

How is CWP treated?

There is no proven effective treatment for CWP; however, symptoms can be treated.

There are several U.S. laws concerning CWP and its treatment, and the government may help pay for treatment. To be eligible for government assistance, you must be totally and permanently disabled by CWP.  Most miners are not eligible for federal black lung benefits.  Both Kentucky and West Virginia have worker compensation laws for CWP and PMF.

If you or a loved one has developed coal workers’ pneumoconiosis (CWP) or progressive massive fibrosis (PMF) due to exposure and inhalation of coal dust, contact the Shelton Law Group at 1-888-761-7204 or (502) 409-6460, or visit us at www.robsheltonlaw.com for a free consultation and evaluation of your possible claim.