Black Lung

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The black lung movement was a movement formed in the late 1960’s in which the miners fought for the health benefits to cover black lung disease. Black lung is directly caused by mining and working with coal. Mildred Mullins wrote this poem and hung it on the coffin of her dead husband in the Capital to display what was going on, “Compensation we are asking,
While alive and still gasping;
When life is o’er and hymns are sung,
Then they’ll know we have black lung.( “Charleston Gazette” 15)” The miners felt that since their job caused this disease that they should be compensated for it. The coal companies felt that mining did not cause this lung disease and that the miners were just making it up. Black lung is the legal term used to describe a preventable lung disease that is contracted by prolonged breathing of coal mine dust. Black lung is an occupational disease meaning that it is man-made and preventable. The name black lung comes from the fact that those with the disease have lungs that look black instead of pink. In the medical world it is best known as coal worker’s pneumoconiosis. In haled coal dust progressively builds up in the lungs leading to inflammation, fibrosis and necrosis. Most commonly workers exposed to coal dust develop chronic bronchitis. Once the coal dust is in the lungs it is unable to be removed. Black lung was discovered by James C. Gregory when he did an autopsy on a recently deceases patient that had been working in the coal mines. He said, “Both lungs presented one uniform black carbonaceous colour pervading every part of their substance. The right lung was much disorganized, and exhibited in its upper and middle lobes, several large irregular cavities…These cavities contained a good deal of fluid, which, as well as the walls of the cavities, partook of the same black colour. (Smith 1)”. He reported that he suspected this black dust came from the coal mines in which his patient and worked saying “the habitual inhalation of a quantity of the coal-dust with which the atmosphere of a coal-mine must be constantly charged. (Smith 2)” H.A. Lemen a professor of medicine at the University of Denver and president of the Colorado State Medical Society presented a paper on his patient James McKeever who was a coal for 34 years in Pennsylvania. His patient had a “harassing cough” and expectorated more than a pint of black liquid a day. While giving his speech he said, “The sentence I am reading was written with this fluid. The pen used has never been in ink. (Derickson1)” This just shows how drastically coal dust affected the life of this man, to where he was coughing up black fluids. In the early stages of black lung disease there are no symptoms. Over time as the coal dust accumulates in the lungs it starts to affect the lung tissue. This can lead to emphysema and fibrosis, which can cause breathing difficulties. By the time the miner and doctors notice the symptom of breathing difficulties it is too late. To diagnose black lung a chest x-ray is used to look at the physical condition of the lung, and the doctor usually listens to the patient take deep breaths to look for breathing impairments. Minimizing exposure to coal dust is the best way to prevent black lung disease, even if it means quitting your mining job. Now days, each mine has ventilation plan to help eliminate the coal dust and provide fresh air. In order to get black lung, the coal dust has to be in the air. In coal towns the dust was everywhere, “It collects at the side of the narrow, two-lane roads, coats the green grass of lawns, and settles on children’s toys left piled in the yards. Dust grays the sheets hung out to dry in the sun. (Smith 31)” The coal dust gets in the air many ways. In the earlier times of coal mining it was by hitting the coal with picks. “Every stroke of the pick dislodges a fresh shower of dust, to be inhaled by the miner. (Derickson 3)” When the coal companies made the switch to undercutting machines the coal...
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