Saturday, February 18, 2006

Shovels don't have daughters

Deep mining has been claiming the headlines lately but a great deal of mining is done on the surface -- strip mining. You don't have to worry about cave ins or methane explosions but it is still dirty, dangerous work. And it carries hidden hazards. Like rock lung. The Appalachian Media Center works with young people in central Appalachia to document the oral history of central Kentucky, and recently Autumn Campbell interviewed her father, Danny, who worked at a Kentucky strip mine until he became disabled. He is only 56 years old but can't even walk from one end of his kitchen to the other without getting out of breath. Danny Campbell has "rock lung," silicosis, a scarring of the lungs from breathing in free silica (quartz). Miners die of it. Needlessly.
I am a retired surface miner right now. I worked for 25 years as a rotary drill operator. I was the one who drilled the drill holes. So the explosives man would come by and put in the powder and the shot, and would break up the rock so the dozers and the loaders and everything could move it. I was the one that done all the drilling, and the patterns and everything, for that work.

[snip]

I provided a good living for the family, provided everything we needed to function at that time. It made the payments, bought the groceries, bought the Christmas gifts.

[snip]

We worked six, seven days a week. And the high wall driller, he would work ten, 12, 14 hours a day. Sometimes it would be two, three days before I would go home to see the family. A lot of times the family would come up and visit me. At that time I had two boys, and they would come up on the hill and they would visit me. It was just a lot of hours, a lot of long hours spending at that time. That was when the coal boom was really on and everybody was working.
When Danny Campbell worked as a strip miner the medical profession and the mine operators knew all about silicosis, in fact had known about it for more than half a century. And now Danny Campbell and his daughter Autumn know about it, too.
A. CAMPBELL: At first, I didn't understand what was going on. Not being able to go on walks with me, and play softball with me, any more. Eventually it escalated to where he couldn't even walk up the steps without getting winded. Now he can't even walk across the kitchen. As I grow older, I came to better understand his illness and what he can and cannot do.

D. CAMPBELL: Well, when you get that, after it gets so bad, you can't take the air, the volume of air in that you need to function, and your activities all just about come to an end. There's very few things that you can do when you get rock lung. After a while you'll get to the point that you'll have to have oxygen, you'll have to carry an oxygen container around with you to get enough oxygen to breath. You won't be able to breathe in the normal air.
The mine operators treated Danny Campbell like another piece of equipment, a shovel or a drill. But shovels and drills don't have daughters.

This is from an interview aired on NPR's Living on Earth Series.

Guest post by Revere of Effect Measure.