Getting Medical Care For Black Lung Was Already Difficult. Then COVID-19 Hit.


On this West Virginia Morning, we focus on one of the scourges of Appalachia: black lung disease. We hear from some miners coping with this disease amidst the coronavirus pandemic. Also, in this show, we speak with author Chris Hamby about his new book that explores the challenges of getting black lung benefits.

COVID-19 has affected even the healthiest people, compromising their respiratory systems. But what happens when someone already has a lung disease? Our southern coalfields reporter Caitlin Tan brings us this story.

A federal law passed in 1969, following the Farmington Mine Disaster, was supposed to improve working conditions in the coal mines, which have long been connected to the fatal black lung disease. The goal was to eliminate the disease in miners. But, 51 years later, the rate of those with black lung is higher than ever. The law also created the federal benefits program to compensate those affected, but many miners haven’t received a dime.    

In author Chris Hamby’s new book “Soul Full of Coal Dust: The True Story of an Epic Battle for Justice,” he looks at the black lung benefits program through the eyes of West Virginia miners, detailing their fight for benefits in a system that’s stacked against them. Hamby spoke with reporter Eric Douglas over Zoom about the newly released book.

West Virginia Morning is a production of West Virginia Public Broadcasting which is solely responsible for its content.

Support for our news bureaus comes from West Virginia University, Concord University, and Shepherd University.

Listen to West Virginia Morning weekdays at 7:43 a.m. on WVPB Radio or subscribe to the podcast and never miss an episode. #WVMorning