NIOSH to Offer Free Black Lung Screening for Coal Miners Next Month

The screening will include a work history questionnaire, a chest X-ray, and blood pressure testing.

Beginning in March 2011, NIOSH will continue a series of free, confidential health screenings to surface coal miners throughout the U.S. The screenings are intended to provide early detection of coal workers’ pneumoconiosis, also known as black lung, a serious but preventable occupational lung disease in coal miners caused by breathing respirable dust.

The health screenings will be provided by NIOSH through a mobile testing van at community and mine locations. Locations, dates, and other details are being finalized. Similar screenings were offered in 2010.

“It is critical to detect coal workers’ pneumoconiosis as early as possible, to guide intervention and keep the disease from advancing to stages in which it becomes progressively debilitating and life-threatening,” said NIOSH Director John Howard, M.D. “The screening offered by NIOSH is designed to serve that purpose. As a source of data through which scientists may identify trends in cases, it is also a vital component of efforts by NIOSH and its partners to protect miners at risk and eliminate coal workers’ pneumoconiosis once and for all.”

NIOSH will provide the health screening for surface coal miners under its Enhanced Coal Workers’ Health Surveillance Program. Traditionally, NIOSH has provided the program for health surveillance of underground coal miners.

The screening will include a work history questionnaire and a chest X-ray. Blood pressure screening will be offered as well. Typically, the process takes about 15 minutes. NIOSH provides the individual miner with the results of his or her own screening, but by law each person’s test results remain entirely confidential.

The prevalence of coal workers’ pneumoconiosis among long-term underground miners who participated in chest X-ray screening decreased from the 1970s to the 1990s. However, the rate of disease in underground miners participating in the NIOSH program has recently increased.

The current rate for underground miners participating in the NIOSH Program and having a tenure in coal mining of at least 25 years is 9 percent nationally, double the rate in 1995. Knowing the frequency of the disease and who may be at risk is important for determining how to prevent new cases.

To learn more, go to http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/topics/surveillance/ORDS/ecwhsp.html.

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