In West Virginia and Pennsylvania, the coal mining industry has employed hundreds of thousands of individuals over the centuries. For many families, working in the mines has been a given, with one generation after another laboring in places where many of us would never dare to go. Coal mining is grueling work and, often, coal miners live short lives due to the risks associated with their jobs.
Mention coal mining to a medical professional and chances are the words “black lung” will come to mind. As long as coal mining has been an industry, coal miners have been developing black lung, an occupational disease contracted by prolonged inhalation of coal mine dust.
The United Mine Workers estimate that some 1500 former mine workers still die each year from the disease, even though it is preventable.
There’s another preventable disease that claims the lives of many mine workers each year. Mesothelioma, caused by exposure to asbestos, is diagnosed each year among many former West Virginia and Pennsylvania coal miners, due to exposure to numerous products that once contained toxic asbestos.
According to the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA), coal mining asbestos use has exposed as many as 3.5 million workers to risk. Also it has enjoyed many uses in the industry and was found in products such as jointings and packing in electrical cable entrances on permissible electrical equipment; brake linings on mobile equipment and large cable reels; gloves for handling hot materials (for welders and laboratory workers); welding blankets; thermal insulation of buildings, boilers, and pipelines; and acoustic insulation in offices and other buildings.
The same 1989 MSHA handbook that outlined coal mining asbestos use noted that substitutes for asbestos-containing products were encouraged. Unfortunately, however, those suggestions weren’t always heeded. It might even be possible that coal miners are still being exposed to this very toxic mineral.
Companies that operated toxic mines include; US Steel (Fordyce, PA, Waynesburg, PA, Jarrett’s Fort, PA), POCA Fuel in Inman, WV, Semet Solvay in Inman, WV, Candace Coal, Candace, WV, and CONSOL Energy headquartered in Canonsburg, PA.
As a result of the use of asbestos products, errant asbestos dust can enter the chest area where it becomes lodged in the pleura, peritoneum, or pericardium and can cause tumors to form. The eventual result, often decades later, is a diagnosis of mesothelioma.
Mesothelioma is one of the most aggressive and difficult-to-treat cancers known to man, and though prognosis for patients has improved slightly over the years, most experts agree that the average life span for a meso victim is about 16 months.
Sadly, coal miners may also be dealing with additional illnesses caused by their working conditions, further shortening their life expectancy.
Like black lung, asbestos diseases could have been prevented if mine executives had taken the necessary precautions to protect their workers, including the availability of protective gear and the substitution of asbestos products with non-asbestos-containing products that were safe to use. Instead, some West Virginia families suffer from having multiple generations with mesothelioma.
It’s a tragedy.
But help may be available. Coal miners who have been diagnosed with mesothelioma may be able to receive assistance with medical bills and other expenses associated with the disease. Legal action can often times provide the compensation a miner needs to meet his debts and to provide for his family after his passing. Check with a West Virginia mesothelioma attorney for more information.