WASHINGTON, D.C. (WOWK) – Black Lung rates have hit a 25 year high in Appalachian coal mining states. According to the National Institute of Occupational Health and Safety, Black Lung Disease is at a record high in Kentucky, West Virginia and Virginia.

“We have to get as many people as we can to stand up for the miners,” says Willie Carte, Director of the Boone Memorial Black Lung Center. 
Carte says this is especially true now that the patients he is seeing are coming in at younger and younger ages due to the way coal is now mined.

“What’s happened is the miners are having to drill into a lot of rock to get to coal and so you have a lot more younger people getting black lung a lot earlier and a lot faster now because of the rock dust they are having to drill through,” says Carte. “We’ve seen it as low as thirties…really, really, really bad case on a gentlemen in his early thirties it was very surprising.”

The disease is incurable but comes with a chance to be compensated through federal grants, now being challenged in the halls of Congress. A bill now before the US Senate would cut the payments. Payments that could mean life or death for some of these miners. 

“It’s sad to see people actually just smothered to death, lungs quit, it overloads your heart,” says retired coal miner Gary Tomblin. 

Many of these men know all too well what dangers come with the job and now they fear their children will face the same fate they are seeing now.

“It’s just a job and a livelihood and God said man will earn his bread by the sweat of his brow so that’s how we done here,” says Danny Spencer, a retired miner.

Boone Memorial Hospital’s Black Lung Center will hold an outreach event offering free help with Black Lung claims on July 26 at the Southern West Virginia community college and technical school.