Black Lung Back in Coal Country?

A resurgence of the black lung has been detected in coal country, according to a statement by National Public Radio and the Center for Public Integrity on Tuesday.

NPR said that autopsies of 29 miners killed in an explosion at Massey Energy's Upper Big Branch coal mine two years ago indicated high levels of black lung. At least two of the victims with black lung were in their 20s, and some had spent only 10 years or less working underground.

The deadly disease is caused by inhalation of coal dust and was thought to be eradicated following the 1969 strike by miners in West Virginia coalfields. Congress guaranteed that mining companies would have to keep dust levels down following the strike, but the new report indicates that black lung diagnoses have not decreased.

In fact, according to the report, the amount of people with black lung has even doubled in the past decade regardless of regulations like dust sensors and dust control systems.

The investigation by NPR and the Center for Public Integrity discovered that many miners hid their dust sensors in lunch buckets or under clothing.

Coal country refers to the states along the Appalachian mountains and surrounding such as Virginia, West Virginia, and Kentucky, which contain the mining districts that are most affected. Meanwhile, as of 2008, coal was being mined in a total of 25 states.

In light of the report's findings, shares in Alpha Natural Resources, the company that bought Massey Energy last year, was trading down 6.5 percent Tuesday, and down a total of 82 percent in the past year.

Coal companies are suffering great losses as more and more are switching to cheap, clean energy resources. Still, there are thousands of coal-powered generating units at electrical utilities across the U.S.