January 24, 2017
By Kara Lofton
James Bounds is a West Virginia miner with black lung disease; it took him 4 1/2 years to get compensation benefits. A provision in Obamacare later made qualifying for those benefits much easier.
Kara Lofton/West Virginia Public Broadcasting
At the Pulmonary Rehabilitation Clinic in Scarbro, W.Va., (click here) oxygen tubes dangle from the noses of three miners slowly pedaling on stationary bikes. All of these men have black lung — a disease caused by breathing in coal dust. Over time, the dust coats the lungs and causes them to harden. Hard lungs don't easily expand and contract, and that makes it difficult to breathe.
"You try to get air in them, and they don't want to cooperate with you as they did before," says retired miner James Bounds, speaking with great effort. Not every coal miner gets black lung, just as some smokers don't get cancer. But for those who do, Bounds says, the disease is devastating.
"There's no cure at all," he says. "It keeps getting harder and harder until one day, I guess, you take your last breath and they won't expand for you no more."