In an effort aimed at early detection, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) will offer free pneumoconiosis screenings to surface coal miners throughout the U.S.

The occupational lung disease – also known as black lung – is caused by breathing respirable dust. The NIOSH screenings will begin in March, using a state-of-the-art mobile testing van at community and mine locations. Locations, dates, and other details are being finalized.

“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 this year and last year for surface coal miners reflects concerns by NIOSH and stakeholders that surface coal miners are also at risk for occupational lung disease through exposure to respirable dust.

The screening provided by NIOSH 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. Similar screenings were offered in 2010.

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. Consequently, information regarding disease in surface coal miners is crucial.

Additional information about the program can be found via the toll free number 1-888-480-4042.

NIOSH offers an educational video, “Faces of Black Lung,” in which two miners with CWP share their personal accounts and provide insight on how their lives changed due to this devastating disease