‘energy, explained’ podcast: The black lung disease epidemic that ‘shouldn’t have happened’

StateImpact's Reid Frazier talks with NPR's Howard Berkes

  • Scott Blanchard

In December, an NPR and Frontline investigation revealed that regulators didn’t act when they could have stopped the exposure of thousands of coal miners to toxic dust.

Now, NPR reporter Howard Berkes and a team discovered, there’s an epidemic of black lung disease caused by that dust.

The disease is fatal. Bernard Carlson, who worked in mines in Somerset and Westmoreland counties in western Pennsylvania, has it.

“No matter how you filter, no matter what they filter, the fine stuff is what gets in there and cuts you up,” Carlson told Berkes. “And it ain’t coming out. Once it gets in there, it ain’t coming out. The black stuff sometimes will. But that fine silica dust? Uh-uh. You’re done.”

Berkes and his team found Carlson and other miners after their research on advanced black lung disease cases led to a simple question.

“…I’d been wondering, how could this happen?” Berkes said. “If the regulatory system that was supposed to protect these miners had been working, it shouldn’t have happened.”

In the latest episode of StateImpact Pennsylvania’s ‘energy, explained’ podcast, Berkes talks with StateImpact’s Reid Frazier about the story, and how miners like Carlson reflect on how practices in coal mines caused them to contract this deadly form of black lung disease.

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