Coal Mining

Craig Elliott in Zanesville.
Nick Evans

In Zanesville Tuesday morning, coal miners file up to a mobile clinic for black lung disease screening.

It's a large delivery truck with a small doctor’s office built in the back. The miners wander up in ones and twos. Many are retired and they creak up and down the small staircase gingerly.

One in five working coal miners in central Appalachia who have worked at least 25 years now suffer from the coal miners' disease black lung. That's the finding from the latest study tracking an epidemic of the incurable and fatal sickness.

A new government report says that the federal black lung trust fund that helps sick and dying coal miners pay living and medical expenses could incur a $15 billion deficit in the next 30 years. That's if a congressionally mandated funding cut occurs as planned at the end of the year.

More coal miners in central Appalachia have suffered the advanced stages of the deadly disease black lung than previous government research has found, and more miners working in the region today have earlier stages of the disease.

Those are two of the findings in a bundle of studies released Tuesday and expected to be released soon, which focus on the epidemic of black lung disease first reported by NPR in 2016.

Updated on Feb. 6 at 3:49 p.m. ET

Epidemiologists at the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health say they've identified the largest cluster of advanced black lung disease ever reported, a cluster that was first uncovered by NPR 14 months ago.

U.S. coal mines recorded 15 workplace deaths in 2017 only a year after they hit a record low, according to Mine Safety and Health Administration data released on Tuesday.

In 2016, just nine deaths occurred in U.S. coal mines.

West Virginia mines saw eight deaths, Kentucky had two, and one each occurred at mines in Alabama, Colorado, Montana, Pennsylvania and Wyoming.

What opportunities are there for a coal-mining community after its main industry has waned?

In Somerset County in southwestern Pennsylvania, that's not an easy question to answer. For this county of roughly 76,000 residents, renewable energy and health care offer hopes for its future. But first it has to attract qualified workers.

NPR's ongoing investigation of the advanced stage of the fatal lung disease that afflicts coal miners has identified an additional 1,000 cases in Appalachia.

That brings the NPR count of progressive massive fibrosis, the most serious stage of the disease known as black lung, to nearly 2,000 cases in the region, all of which were diagnosed since 2010.

About 22,000 coal miners around the country will lose their retirement benefits if Congress does not pass a spending package by this Friday. Ohio's senators are working on a more permanent solution.

The Continuing Resolution that runs out this Friday includes an extension of miners' health insurance and pensions that was passed last December by Congress.

Tech Tuesday: ISIS, Coding, Gift Guide for Kids

Nov 24, 2015
SparkFun Electronics / Wikimedia Commons

ISIS is notorious for its avid use of social media as a mouthpiece to spread propaganda and the hacktivist group Anonymous is looking to put a stop to it. Then, a former coal industry worker and his company are looking to break the stereotype that surrounds Appalachia and teach former coal miners to code.  Also, we're talking about gadget gift ideas for your kids.