Howard Berkes

I was 150 miles away on May 18, 1980, when Mount St. Helens blew, but my bed shook and the windows on my Oregon A-frame rattled.

I rushed to my radio station and its clacking Associated Press wire machine and pulled up a pile of wire copy from the floor. The reports coming in from southwest Washington state were hard to believe:

  • A boiling plume of ash rising 15 miles high.
  • The top 1,300 feet of the mountain gone.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

An audit of the federal system that fines mining companies for unsafe conditions found no evidence that more than $1 billion in mine safety penalties over 18 years deterred unsafe mining practices.

The four-year long audit from the Office of Inspector General of the Labor Department says its analysis of Mine Safety and Health Administration accident and violations data "showed no correlation between penalties paid and the safety of mine operations."

Dozens of coal miners are expected on Capitol Hill on Tuesday, where they'll press federal regulators and members of Congress to address the epidemic of deadly progressive massive fibrosis, the advanced stage of black lung disease.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Thousands of coal miners are dying from an advanced form of black lung disease, and federal regulators could have prevented it if they had paid closer attention to their own data.

That's the conclusion of a joint NPR/Frontline investigation that aired last month and continues Tuesday night on PBS.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Greg Kelly's grandson, Caden, scampers to the tree-shaded creek behind his grandfather's house to catch crawdads, as Kelly shuffles along, trying to keep up. Kelly's small day pack holds an oxygen tank with a clear tube clipped to his nose. He has chairs spaced out on the short route so he can stop every few minutes, sit down and catch his breath, until he has enough wind and strength to start out again for the creek.

One in five working coal miners in central Appalachia who have worked at least 25 years now suffer from the coal miners' disease black lung. That's the finding from the latest study tracking an epidemic of the incurable and fatal sickness.

New and tougher rules designed to protect coal miners from the coal and silica dust that causes the fatal disease black lung may not be enough to stem an "epidemic" of the worst stages of the disease or the highest rates of disease in Central Appalachia in 25 years.

A new government report says that the federal black lung trust fund that helps sick and dying coal miners pay living and medical expenses could incur a $15 billion deficit in the next 30 years. That's if a congressionally mandated funding cut occurs as planned at the end of the year.

More coal miners in central Appalachia have suffered the advanced stages of the deadly disease black lung than previous government research has found, and more miners working in the region today have earlier stages of the disease.

Those are two of the findings in a bundle of studies released Tuesday and expected to be released soon, which focus on the epidemic of black lung disease first reported by NPR in 2016.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Updated at 8 p.m. ET

The federal agency that trains, tests and certifies the physicians who read X-rays and diagnose the deadly coal miners' disease black lung said today it was not consulted by Kentucky lawmakers in the 14 months they considered a new law that mostly limits diagnoses to pulmonologists working for coal companies.

A measure signed into law in Kentucky this past week would prevent federally-certified radiologists from judging X-rays in state black lung compensation claims, leaving diagnoses of the disease mostly to physicians who typically work for coal companies.

The new law requires that only pulmonologists — doctors who specialize in the lungs and respiratory system — assess diagnostic black lung X-rays when state black lung claims are filed.

Pages