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.

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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.

A new bill under consideration by Florida lawmakers would stop insurance companies from dodging workers compensation payouts by aiding in the arrest and deportation of unauthorized immigrants who are injured on the job.

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.

Updated at 4:50 p.m. ET

Investigators in Las Vegas are sifting through evidence they've gathered from the homes of the man who sprayed a concert crowd with gunfire. They've begun to interview his girlfriend. They've learned quite a bit about Stephen Paddock's past and preparation, but there is still no explanation for why he damaged and destroyed so many lives.

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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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Former Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship is marking his release from federal custody with an appeal for vindication by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Blankenship served a one-year federal prison sentence after being convicted of conspiracy to violate federal mine safety laws. The charges stemmed from the disaster at a Massey Energy mine in West Virginia in 2010 that left 29 coal miners dead.

Updated at 6:25 p.m. ET

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.

In the second of two reports, NPR looks at the causes of a dramatic spike in progressive massive fibrosis, the most serious stage of the coal miners' disease, black lung. The spike also could stress the federal black lung benefits program, which is already struggling. (Read and listen to the first story here).

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.

West Virginia's Democratic candidate for governor is a billionaire, a philanthropist and a resort and coal mine owner who cites his business and mining experience as major attributes as he seeks to lead his home state out of a severe budget and economic crisis.

"I am not a career politician; I am a career businessman," wrote Jim Justice in an April 5 op-ed that appeared in the Charleston Gazette-Mail.

A "race to the bottom" in state workers' compensation laws has the Labor Department calling for "exploration" of federal oversight and federal minimum benefits.

"Working people are at great risk of falling into poverty," the agency says in a new report on changes in state workers' comp laws. Those changes have resulted in "the failure of state workers' compensation systems to provide [injured workers] with adequate benefits."

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Injured workers face "inherent conflict of interest," barriers to benefits, "unequal treatment," limited appeals and little to no independent oversight when employers opt out of state-regulated workers' compensation, according to a new study.

U.S. Department of Labor Secretary Thomas Perez says his agency will use its "bully pulpit" to strike at what he calls "a disturbing trend" that leaves workers without medical care and wage replacement payments when they are injured on the job.

In an interview with NPR, Perez also confirms a Labor Department investigation of an opt-out alternative to state-regulated workers' compensation that has saved employers millions of dollars but that he says is "undermining that basic bargain" for American workers.

Bob Ebeling spent a third of his life consumed with guilt about the explosion of the space shuttle Challenger. But at the end of his life, his family says, he was finally able to find peace.

"It was as if he got permission from the world," says his daughter Leslie Ebeling Serna. "He was able to let that part of his life go."

Ebeling died Monday at age 89 in Brigham City, Utah, after a long illness, according to his daughter Kathy Ebeling.

An Oklahoma law that lets employers opt out of state-regulated workers' compensation has been rejected and declared unconstitutional by state regulators.

The Oklahoma Workers' Compensation Commission called the alternative workplace-benefit plans that some employers adopted under the law "a water mirage on the highway that disappears upon closer inspection."

The unanimous ruling by the commission, issued Friday, is expected to be appealed.

When NPR reported Bob Ebeling's story on the 30th anniversary of the explosion of the space shuttle Challenger, hundreds of listeners and readers expressed distress and sympathy in letters and emails.

Thirty years ago, as the nation mourned the loss of seven astronauts on the space shuttle Challenger, Bob Ebeling was steeped in his own deep grief.

The night before the launch, Ebeling and four other engineers at NASA contractor Morton Thiokol had tried to stop the launch. Their managers and NASA overruled them.

That night, he told his wife, Darlene, "It's going to blow up."

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