Skip to content
MSHA News Release No. 2000-0404
Mine Safety and Health Administration
Contact: Rodney Brown
Phone: (703) 235-1452

Released Tuesday, April 4, 2000

Most eligible in Colorado, Illinois, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia
More U.S. Coal Miners Now Eligible for Free Chest X-rays to Detect Lung Disease

Thousands more U.S. coal miners are now eligible for free, confidential chest X-rays to detect work-related lung diseases, courtesy of the Department of Labor's Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA).

   The "Miners' Choice Health Screening," a pilot program launched last fall, initially offered free, confidential chest X-rays to some 10,000 coal miners, an opportunity that expired for that group on March 31. More than 7,000 coal miners took the free X-rays during the first phase. During phase two of the program, which began April 1, approximately 10,000 more coal miners are now eligible for the free tests and are being notified by MSHA officials.

   ‘We are encouraged by the number of coal miners who volunteered for the free X-rays in the first phase of this pilot program," said Davitt McAteer, assistant secretary of labor for mine safety and health. "I urge all miners who are now eligible for the free tests to take advantage of this opportunity and help us rid the mining industry of this disabling disease now and forever."

   The pilot chest X-ray program is designed to ensure confidentiality, a concern shared by many of the eligible coal miners around the country.

   "Our pilot program to check for black lung disease among miners is strictly confidential," said McAteer. "MSHA pays for the X-rays and NIOSH coordinates reading of the X-rays. No one else – neither the mine operator or any other person or agent for any public entity – may have access to any miner's chest X-ray results. The results are only available to the miner having the chest X-ray."

   Under the pilot program, MSHA informs all eligible miners of the free X-rays and provides information on how they can get them. Retired miners or non-working miners are not eligible. Miners may take the free X-rays at any of the nearly 70 participating medical facilities located nationwide. MSHA pays for all of the X-rays under the pilot program. All X-rays are sent to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) which coordinates test readings and will then notify each tested miner of individual findings. MSHA will not receive individual results of any X-rays. Only statistical information concerning the results will be examined to determine the true depth and scope of black lung disease in the nation today.

   McAteer continued, "The results of these X-rays are very important because it will tell us the extent of black lung and other occupational respiratory illnesses among coal miners. Once we have this information, we'll know where to direct the resources of this agency and the mining community to eliminate this disease from the mining industry."

   MSHA moved to implement the pilot program in response to a 1996 federal advisory committee chartered to make recommendations on eliminating black lung disease among miners.

   With the exception of Kentucky, where every working coal miner is eligible for the free chest X-rays under the pilot program, only working miners at selected mining operations are currently eligible for the free chest X-rays. In offering the X-rays to 20 percent of all coal miners in the initial year of the program, MSHA hopes to test every coal miner in the nation over a five-year period.

   As of April 1, over 2,000 miners in the West Virginia are eligible for the free X-rays, the highest of any state. Next highest are Colorado and Illinois where more than 800 miners are now eligible in both states. Approximately 500 miners are eligible in Pennsylvania, Utah, Virginia, and Wyoming. The free chest X-rays are available through September.

   Since 1994, MSHA has been engaged in a multifaceted effort to end black lung disease and silicosis among U.S. mine workers. Among these actions were the appointment of an advisory committee to study elimination of black lung disease, establishment of a toll-free dust fraud hotline for miners to report excessive levels of respirable dust in their workplace, plans to shift to a single-sample system of measuring dust levels for enforcement purposes and increased coal mine dust sampling conducted by the agency rather than mine operators.

   For further information concerning MSHA's chest X-ray program, call toll-free, 1-800-706-0735. A list of participating medical facilities where the chest X-rays may be obtained is available on MSHA's Web page at