Howard Berkes

Thousands of coal miners are dying from an advanced form of black lung disease, and federal regulators could have prevented it if they had paid closer attention to their own data.

That's the conclusion of a joint NPR/Frontline investigation that aired last month and continues Tuesday night on PBS.

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

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Greg Kelly's grandson, Caden, scampers to the tree-shaded creek behind his grandfather's house to catch crawdads, as Kelly shuffles along, trying to keep up. Kelly's small day pack holds an oxygen tank with a clear tube clipped to his nose. He has chairs spaced out on the short route so he can stop every few minutes, sit down and catch his breath, until he has enough wind and strength to start out again for the creek.

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.

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.

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.

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