A joint investigation by NPR and the Center for Public Integrity mined government databases and analyzed together for the first time ever, coal dust enforcement records and black lung occurrence data. We compiled what appear to be the most comprehensive accounts to date of an unexpected reemergence of black lung, sharp increases among younger miners, rapid progression to the most serious stages, widespread fraudulent coal dust testing by industry, weaknesses and loopholes in federal regulations, and ineffective enforcement by federal regulators. We asked Ken Ward Jr., the veteran coal industry reporter at the Charleston Gazette, to contribute web and print stories about the history of failed government regulation, as well as fraudulent coal dust testing specifically at the Upper Big Branch mine, where 29 miners died in an explosion fueled by coal dust in 2010. Our reporting prompted the Labor Department to establish an internal team to review the agency's enforcement of coal dust regulations, according to internal agency e-mails obtained by NPR. Federal regulators stepped up coal dust enforcement, targeting mines with a history of violations. Members of Congress cited the series in calling for tougher regulations, and one group launched a petition drive demanding action.
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