Since Donald Trump seized upon it as a campaign theme in 2016, the media has bemoaned rampant unemployment in central Appalachia due to the “death of coal.”
It turns out, though, that slumping mining productivity is linked to something much worse than joblessness. It’s also likely behind the terrifying spike in black lung disease among the region’s miners.
As the industry mines thinning coal seams, miners must cut away more rock to get the same amount of coal as in the past. Scientists connect the resurgence of black lung—which suffocates miners by gumming up their lungs with scar tissue—with heightened exposure to rock dust, as the New York Times reports (paywall).