Rockefeller backing black lung advancements

WHILE his opinions often come packed with controversy, outspoken West Virginia senator Jay Rockefeller said he fully supports new federal efforts to modernize pneumoconiosis screenings with digital technology.
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Jay Rockefeller

Donna Schmidt

The direct final and proposed rules, released last week by the US Department of Labor’s Office of Workers’ Compensation Programs and now out for comment, are designed to let the physicians performing black lung tests use more modern medical technology, including digital radiographs.

Rockefeller called the move an important step toward a quicker process for black lung claims, giving miners deserved health benefits.

“Currently, the standards for administering and interpreting chest X-rays addresses only film technology…but such technology is becoming outdated and is often replaced by digital medical technology that offers quicker and more accurate readings,” he said.

“The new rule will allow both film and digital X-rays to be given equal importance in the claims process as miners apply for black lung health benefits.”

Rockefeller has a long record of support for the disease, which is caused by coal dust inhalation over a period of time.

Most recently, he introduced a mine safety bill that would, in part, force the US Mine Safety and Health Administration to issue a rule for a reduction in respirable dust exposure within six months of passage.

The legislator pointed to new data released earlier this year from autopsies that revealed 71% of Upper Big Branch mine explosion victims, including a 25 year old miner, had black lung disease.

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) has also found that the prevalence of black lung disease has increased since 2000, following a steady decline over the previous 30 years, and the agency has also found severe cases of the disease in miners at younger ages.

“Just as people now prefer the immediate, high quality images of digital cameras, the same can be said of our medical devices,” he said.

“This rule makes sure the black lung claims process is updated to reflect advances in technology.”