Skip to content
MSHA News Release No. 2000-0609
Mine Safety and Health Administration
Contact: Rodney Brown
Phone: (703) 235-1452

Released Wednesday, June 09, 2000

Participation rate above 85% in Alabama, Ohio, Wyoming
Nation's Coal Miners Take Advantage of Labor Department's Free Chest X-rays

The "Miners' Choice Health Screening," a voluntary, pilot program initiated to check for respiratory disease in U. S. coal miners, has been a tremendous success in the first six months of operation, according to J. Davitt McAteer, assistant secretary of labor for mine safety and health. The pilot program, which provides free, confidential chest X-rays to certain working coal miners to detect evidence of black lung disease, began last fall and has been offered to 20 percent of miners nationwide in 13 coal mining states. Nearly 70 percent of eligible coal miners, excluding those in Kentucky, have taken the free chest X-rays being offered by the U. S. Department of Labor's Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA).

"The response to the pilot program has been better than we anticipated," McAteer said. "More than a thousand miners in Alabama were eligible and we're ecstatic that 89 percent of them participated. Even in Kentucky, where participation rates in the old program were about eight to 10 percent, we've managed to more than double that rate so far and we still have more than three months of time remaining to get other eligible miners tested."

Coal miners currently eligible for the free chest X-rays are contacted by MSHA and informed of participating medical facilities where the X-rays may be taken. Retired miners or non-working miners are not eligible. 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 which coordinates test readings and notifies each tested miner of individual results. MSHA only receives statistical information concerning test results, which are examined to determined the true extent of black lung disease in America today.

"This is an important opportunity for coal miners to get critical personal health information," said McAteer. "Miners also need to understand that a ‘positive' test result showing evidence of black lung is ‘not the end of the world.' Under current law, those miners have the right to be transferred to a less dusty work environment at their current workplace and at the same rate of pay. The early detection of a problem also gives the miner a chance to get the appropriate medical attention needed to better manage the illness and increase the chances of surviving the disease."

Black lung is a progressive disease caused by long-term overexposure to respirable coal mine dust and can lead to heart disease among other ailments. The National Black Lung Association estimates that the disease leads to the death of 1,500 people each year. A previous chest X-ray program set up to detect black lung that included mine operator funding has been in place for 30 years but suffered from low participation rates that hovered around 25 percent nationwide. MSHA addressed confidentiality concerns in structuring the new, pilot program by arranging for miners to take the free X-rays with no involvement of the employer.

"Individual mining companies have worked with us to make it possible for miners to take the X-rays at locations that are convenient to the work site, and the mining industry generally has supported the program," McAteer said.

"We are highly encouraged by the response to the new program," continued McAteer. "The current participation rate nearly triples the rate of miners who responded to the previous chest X-ray program. This tells us that miners understand the serious nature of black lung disease and want to take this important precaution to avoid the possible deadly consequences of black lung."

With the exception of Kentucky, where every coal miner is eligible for the free X-rays under the pilot program, only working miners at selected mines in other coal mining states are currently eligible. As of June, according to informal reports from participating clinics, some 23 percent of the 14,000 miners in Kentucky have taken the free chest X-rays, even though that state requires miners to notify their employer if they are diagnosed with black lung disease or risk having future state black lung benefits denied. (Participation rates for all other coal mining states are listed on the chart below.)

In offering the free X-rays to 20 percent of all coal miners in the first year of the program, MSHA plans to test every U. S. coal miner over a five-year period.

"I urge all those coal miners who are now eligible for the free X-rays to take the opportunity to have these tests done," said McAteer. "Your health is much too important to the well-being of your family to ignore this opportunity. The information on the extent of the disease will help us eradicate black lung once and for all."

Eligibility of miners who have been notified that they can have the free X-ray ends in September.


#of Eligible Miners

# of X-rays Taken

Participation Rate

Alabama 1,237 1,097 89%
Colorado 162 130   80%
Illinois 883   503 57%
Indiana 372 211 57%
Maryland 270   209   77%
Ohio 69    59 86%
Pennsylvania 1,927 1,027 53%
Tennessee 43 23 53%
Utah 143 104 73%
Virginia 310 202 65%  
West Virginia 1,419 905 64%
Wyoming 266 264 99%
Totals 21,808 7,446 67%  

*All coal miners in Kentucky are eligible. Of the approximate 14,000 miners in Kentucky, 3,326 had taken the X-rays as of June 2000. Numbers based on informal reports from participating medical facilities.