Howard Berkes

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/.

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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.

Rural medical clinics that are struggling to respond to an epidemic of a fatal lung disease plaguing coal miners received a 40 percent boost in federal funding with the passage of the omnibus spending bill last week.

Updated on Feb. 6 at 3:49 p.m. ET

Epidemiologists at the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health say they've identified the largest cluster of advanced black lung disease ever reported, a cluster that was first uncovered by NPR 14 months ago.

The second-highest ranking member of the Florida Senate pledged a legislative review of a state law that has allowed injured undocumented workers to be arrested and potentially deported rather than paid workers' compensation benefits.

"Legitimate injuries shouldn't be denied just because the person was an undocumented immigrant," said Republican Sen. Anitere Flores, the president pro tempore of the state Senate and chairwoman of the Banking and Insurance Committee.

At age 31, Nixon Arias cut a profile similar to many unauthorized immigrants in the United States. A native of Honduras, he had been in the country for more than a decade and had worked off and on for a landscaping company for nine years. The money he earned went to building a future for his family in Pensacola, Fla. His Facebook page was filled with photos of fishing and other moments with his three boys, ages 3, 7 and 8.

But in November 2013, that life began to unravel.

NPR's ongoing investigation of the advanced stage of the fatal lung disease that afflicts coal miners has identified an additional 1,000 cases in Appalachia.

That brings the NPR count of progressive massive fibrosis, the most serious stage of the disease known as black lung, to nearly 2,000 cases in the region, all of which were diagnosed since 2010.

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

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Two Democratic members of Congress want three federal agencies to work together to get a more accurate count of coal miners suffering from progressive massive fibrosis, the worst stage of the fatal disease known as black lung.

The request is a response to an NPR investigation that shows 10 times as many cases of the advanced stage of black lung as identified and reported by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.

Across Appalachia, coal miners are suffering from the most serious form of the deadly mining disease black lung in numbers more than 10 times what federal regulators report, an NPR investigation has found.

The government, through the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, reported 99 cases of "complicated" black lung, or progressive massive fibrosis, throughout the country the last five years.

An injured worker featured in an NPR/ProPublica investigation of the opt-out alternative to workers' compensation has settled with the company that denied her medical care and wage-replacement payments after an incident at work.

Kevin Schiller had no idea what hit him.

With 21 years on the job, the building engineer for Macy's department stores had been in and out of every nook and cranny of many of the retail giant's Texas stores, including the storage room in the Macy's in Denton, Texas.

One minute, the stocky, 6-foot-2 Schiller was searching there for a floor drain. The next, he was sprawled on the floor, stunned, confused and bleeding slightly.

Billy Doyle Walker loved working in the sky. He used to say he could see forever, perched high up communications towers as he applied fresh paint.

Three years ago, working halfway up a 300-foot steel tower at the LBJ Ranch, the panoramic view included the rolling green hills and meadows of the Texas Hill Country. The tower was used by former President Lyndon B. Johnson to communicate with the White House.

A few hours after ProPublica and NPR issued the first in a series of reports about workers' compensation "reforms" sweeping the country, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration coincidentally released a paper linking workplace injuries to income inequality.

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

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If you've felt smug and safe using built-in, voice-controlled technology for text messages, email and phone calls while driving, forget it. There are some sobering findings about the risk of distraction from the American Automobile Association and the University of Utah.

The proliferation of hands-free technology "is a looming public safety crisis," AAA CEO Robert Darbelnet says. "It's time to consider limiting new and potentially dangerous mental distractions built into cars."

Goody Tyler isn't just any hard-core Great Salt Lake swimmer. He's a certified "ice swimmer." In December, Tyler swam 1 mile in the lake when the water temperature was only 41 degrees, the maximum temperature for an official "ice swim."

"You're only allowed to wear one cap, one pair of goggles and a Speedo," Tyler says. "And that's it."

The tragic deaths of 29 coal miners in a massive explosion in 2010 have provided new evidence of a resurgence of the disease known as black lung.

The night before he died, Wyatt Whitebread couldn't stand the thought of going back to the grain bins on the edge of Mount Carroll, Ill.

The mischievous and popular 14-year-old had been excited about his first real job, he told Lisa Jones, the mother of some of his closest friends, as she drove him home from a night out for pizza. But nearly two weeks later he told her he was tired of being sent into massive storage bins clogged with corn.