Coal workers in Pennsylvania are often affected by an occupational disease called pneumoconiosis. Commonly referred to as black lung disease, pneumoconiosis is caused by the inhalation of coal dust. As coal dust settles in a worker's lungs, scar tissue causes the lungs to stiffen and breathing becomes difficult.
Anyone who works in a job where they are regularly exposed to coal dust is at risk for developing pneumoconiosis. In addition to coal mine workers, people who are employed at graphite mines and mills, carbon electrode manufacturing plants and carbon black manufacturing plants are at risk for pneumoconiosis. This workplace illness may not present itself for several years after the coal dust has been inhaled, and the severity of the symptoms will depend on the workplace conditions during the exposure.
There is no cure for pneumoconiosis, but individuals who suffer from the disease may receive treatment for their symptoms. Doctors may also treat patients for the additional complications that develop because of black lung disease. Some complications that are linked to pneumoconiosis include lung cancer, pulmonary tuberculosis, respiratory failure and heart failure.
Because the symptoms are not immediately apparent, a worker who has developed pneumoconiosis may not be aware that they have the illness until after they have left the coal industry. As a result, seeking the workers' compensation benefits could be relatively complicated when compared to cases involving a sudden on-the-job injury. An attorney may be able to help a worker who has been stricken with pneumoconiosis to gather all of the necessary evidence for a successful workers' compensation claim, which may cover some of the costs associated with treatment of the disease.
Source: American Lung Association, "Understanding Pneumoconiosis", November 10, 2014