Directed by: Stephanie Wagner Whetstone
Running Time: 27:40
Pneumoconiosis, commonly know as black lung, is a debilitating, incurable, and often fatal lung disease caused by excessive exposure to coal dust. Although black lung was recognized as an occupational disease in Great Britain beginning in the early 20th Century, the American medical community denied any relationship between exposure to coal dust and disabling lung disease.
In the late 1960s, a movement organized by Appalachian coal miners, their families, and a few maverick doctors and politicians forced the nation to confront the issue of occupational disease and disability. Appealing to state and federal legislatures, and, when necessary, shutting down coal production with massive wildcat strikes, members of the black lung movement insisted on legal definition of black lung disease and demanded compensation for its victims. Their grassroots efforts, coupled with the tragic deaths of 78 miners in the Mannington Mine Disaster, spurred the Congressional passage of the landmark 1969 Coal Mine Health and Safety Act which created the federal black lung compensation program.
Although medical and legal recognition of black lung was a major step in acknowledging the existence of the occupational related disease, the federal black lung compensation program has been the focal point of a protracted confrontation between workers, employers, physicians, and policymakers over the meaning of disability and the definition of disease. Fighting for a Breath looks at this thirty year history and the plight of black lung victims today. Through interviews with minersâ lay representative Irene Farmer Napier, disabled miners seeking compensation, attorneys, historians, doctors and activists, we learn what the federal compensation program was intended to be and what it has become. — a regulatory maze designed so strictly stringent that few disabled miners receive benefits.