Bluefield College recently joined efforts with Virginia Delegate Will Morefield to support the region’s coal miners who are victims of black lung.
Delegate Morefield and the college hosted a seminar for miners suffering from the disease, also known as coal workers’ pneumoconiosis. More than 100 miners and family members attended the session, designed to give victims an opportunity to share their personal experiences with state and federal representatives.
“Although black lung is considered a federal issue, I believe it is my responsibility to educate, convey messages, and address important issues to our federal representatives,” said Delegate Morefield, who lost his grandfather, a southwest Virginia coal miner who spent nearly 40 years underground, to black lung. “My hope in bringing more awareness to this issue is that one day we will have true black lung reform. The miners of our region have worked so hard and dedicated their entire lives toward coal mining, and it is my opinion they should be taken care of.”
Black lung is a disease that results from breathing in dust from coal, graphite, or man-made carbon over a long period of time. The inhalation and accumulation of coal dust causes coal workers’ pneumoconiosis (CWP). In 1969, the United States Congress made eliminating black lung a national goal with a law that required mine operators to take steps to limit exposure. According to the United Mine Workers Association, the law greatly reduced black lung among the nation’s coal miners, but still nearly 10,000 coal miners nationwide have died in the last decade from the disease.
According to a recent study completed by West Virginia University, black lung is on the rise again. These researchers warned of a doubling of black lung rates since 1997 and of alarming incidents of the disease among younger miners whose entire careers took place under the 1969 law’s dust limits.
Joining Morefield, who represents Virginia’s Third District in the House of Delegates, to hear the stories and concerns of miners were Virginia Senator Phillip Puckett, Virginia Senate Legislative Director David Larimer, representatives from United States Senator Jim Webb’s office, and representatives from U.S. Congressman Morgan Griffith’s office.
“Protecting our coal miners and making sure they and their families receive the benefits they deserve is one of my top priorities,” said Senator Puckett, who represents the 38th District of the Virginia Senate. “While ultimately black lung benefits are delivered by the federal government, I will continue to be a tireless advocate to our federal representatives on this and the many other issues that are important to Southwest Virginians. I want to thank Delegate Will Morefield for organizing this event, the Virginia Black Lung Association for the great work that they do, and Bluefield College for being a part of such a great event.”
The Virginia Black Lung Association joined Bluefield College in sponsoring the forum. More than 80 of the 100 in attendance signed up to speak to one or more of the representatives in present.