Your Health: Miner well-being is a priority |

Your Health: Miner well-being is a priority

From left, Dawn Wyatt, Brigitte "Bibi" Gottschall, Ethan Moses and Maura Robinson complete a day of patient examinations on behalf of National Jewish Health Thursday afternoon at The Memorial Hospital Medical Clinic. The organization provided free screenings for area miners, including for pulmonary issues like black lung and other ailments related to the job.
Andy Bockelman

It’s a tough job, but someone’s got to do it. And if you’re among the workers punching a time card in the mines of the region, be sure you’re doing it safely.

National Jewish Health recently hosted its Miners Clinic of Colorado in Craig in order to provide health screenings to those in the coal industry in Northwest Colorado. Representatives saw more than 40 patients Thursday and Friday in the offices of The Memorial Hospital Medical Clinic performing examinations such as chest x-rays, breathing tests, blood tests and other services to determine good health among those who have been in the field for six months or more.

According to program coordinator Maura Robinson, the majority of miners who attend clinics — which also are offered across Colorado in Montrose, Pueblo and National Jewish Health’s Denver site, as well as in Wyoming and Arizona — are those who already are retired. Although it is beneficial for those with years of experience working with coal or uranium to continue to get checked out for any effects to their health, Robinson said she and her staff would like to see more people currently employed in mines being screened regularly, especially within Colorado where more than 5,000 miners work.

“I think there are the most active miners here,” she said, mentioning that it’s not unusual for many to start taking their health more seriously as they get older.

The group will not have statistics from the recent screenings for several weeks, but testing from 2013 showed a number of miners have minor to significant health problems.

Chief among the concerns for miners is “black lung,” the occupational term for pneumoconiosis, which comes from coal dust settling in the lungs. The outcome can be simple and mild with an inflammatory reaction but can also become more dangerous in some cases, even leading to progressive massive fibrosis, which can halt lung function altogether if it gets bad enough.

Lung cancer, emphysema, tuberculosis, bronchitis and hearing loss also are not uncommon in miners.

Brigitte “Bibi” Gottschall, one of the examining professionals and an associate professor of medicine for National Jewish Health, said miners, especially those who have worked with uranium, should also be aware of any nodules because those small growths can quickly become problematic.

“We want to make sure they’re not growing and potentially cancer,” she said. “There’s a variety of things we can pick up.”

Precautionary measures on the job include respirators for miners, as well as safety protocols with tools and any other guidelines provided by Occupational Safety and Health Administration and Mine Safety and Health Administration.

MSHA’s campaign, End Black Lung, is in the works to be implemented for increased safety and lowering exposure to coal dust in mines across the nation.

Still, a great deal of an individual’s health is up to them, no matter what their job may be, Gottschall said. A sensible diet and abstaining from lifestyle choices such as alcohol and cigarettes goes a long way toward the body’s response to things like black lung.

“There’s some personal responsibility, and it’s important to create a culture of safety,” she said.

Although representatives no longer are in the area, qualifying miners can receive free screenings through National Jewish Health via federal funding from Health Resources and Services Administration. For more information about the organization’s services, call 303-270-2609 or 877-255-LUNG (5864).

Contact Andy Bockelman at 970-875-1793 or

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