The coal industry was once a major employer in central Pennsylvania. However, there are still pockets of coal production throughout the state. For several decades I have been involved with the evaluation of former and current coal workers seeking possible compensation for their years of exposure to coal dust and the damage it may have done to their lung. The technical term for the disease associated with coal dust exposure is coal worker’s pneumoconiosis.

Whether or not a person may get compensation for his or, in some cases, her coal dust related lung disease depends on several findings and the assessment is not purely medical.

Here is what I explain to a former or current coal worker seeking an evaluation for coal worker pneumoconiosis. First, I tell them they do not want to have this disease since it has a progressive nature and limits their quality of life. Secondly, I explain that they must meet certain standards set by the Department of Labor to have a potentially valid claim and get compensation. The first criteria that a worker must meet is the ability of a trained radiologist to see evidence of coal dust deposition on a routine chest x-ray. This must then be followed by a demonstrated impairment in lung function on a pulmonary function study which usually will include an evaluation of the patient’s oxygen level with and without activity.

Some patients may have one or the other of these findings but, generally, need both to have a successful claim.