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A black lung screening in Rock Springs this week wants to spreads awareness of the “coal miner’s disease”

 NOWCAP Black Lung Clinic building on a sunny day.
NOWCAP Black Lung Clinic in Sheridan.

A black lung mobile screening clinic will take place in Rock Springs this week. The hope is to spread awareness of black lung in Wyoming.

Black lung disease comes from inhaling coal dust. It gets worse with time and makes breathing super difficult. There’s no cure, but treatment can help with symptoms.

Sarah Salveson-Jones, program director of the Sheridan black lung clinic, is helping organize a screening clinic for the disease in Rock Springs. She said some people think there’s no black lung in Wyoming – which is a misnomer.

“In my experience, it just looks different for an underground coal miner versus a surface coal miner,” she said. “It doesn't mean surface coal miners don't get it, they just get it differently.”

The symptoms might be less severe but still there. Historically, black lung has been associated with Appalachia where there is a lot of underground coal mining. But in Wyoming, all current coal mining is done on the surface. Salveson-Jones said typically those in Appalachia have what’s called ‘complicated black lung’, which is more severe and associated with underground mining. But in Wyoming, she said cases of ‘legal black lung’ are more common, which can sometimes be overlooked and confused with symptoms of aging.

“You get shorter breaths, kind of faster. You get tired easier. You might have a hard time going up and down stairs,” she said. “A lot of it is just kind of the same stuff you do deal with just as you age anyway.”

But it’s progressive and can still become debilitating. So, Salveson-Jones said getting screened for black lung early is helpful for early treatment. It’s the first step for qualifying for federal benefits. A single miner can receive a little over $700 a month. A married miner can qualify for about $1,100 a month.

Last year, 25 Wyomingites received federal benefits for having black lung disease, and Salveson-Jones said there’s likely a lot more people in Wyoming who have the disease but don’t know it.

But, she emphasized that a miner can just come get screened too – they don’t have to move forward with treatment or a federal claim.

“There's not a downside,” she said. “The coal company does not find out if you're just doing the screening, and not a claim. Nobody knows. So it's just a free screening, there's no pressure.”

The screening goes Tuesday, Oct. 24, through Thursday, Oct. 26, in the parking lot at the Young At Heart Senior Center in Rock Springs. Spots are filling up, but Salveson-Jones said to contact her to get on the list for a screening.

Caitlin Tan is the Energy and Natural Resources reporter based in Sublette County, Wyoming. Since graduating from the University of Wyoming in 2017, she’s reported on salmon in Alaska, folkways in Appalachia and helped produce 'All Things Considered' in Washington D.C. She formerly co-hosted the podcast ‘Inside Appalachia.' You can typically find her outside in the mountains with her two dogs.
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