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Report on black lung disease says more information needed

Coal industry workers in Pennsylvania are protected against black lung disease by safety measures that control and monitor coal dust. But in recent decades there has been an increase in cases of black lung disease in coal workers. A new report looks at the problem and suggests ways to increase protection for workers.

Black lung disease, also called coal workers' pneumoconiosis, is potentially fatal. It is caused by inhaling coal dust, which may also contribute to lung cancer and emphysema. Federal regulations designed to protect coal workers were passed in 1969, but in the past two decades, there has been an increase in the rate of black lung disease in the industry.

The report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine admits that full examination of the problem would require more information than its study was able to provide. The researchers suggest that current methods of monitoring workers' exposure to coal mine dust might not be very effective. Personal dust monitors are not worn by all miners, and could register other particles besides coal dust.

The report says that efforts should be made to get more miners to participate in medical surveillance programs. The federal Mine Safety and Health Administration is reviewing the report before commenting.

Occupational diseases like black lung are covered by workers' compensation. An occupational disease is a disease that is caused by a person's job, which can mean it is caused by exposure to something at work, or by the tasks of the job itself. For example, repetitive motion injury caused by job activities could be an occupational disease or workplace illness. Workers' compensation also covers pre-existing diseases that are exacerbated or made worse by job activities or the workplace environment.

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