Coal mining is a $60 million industry in South Carolina, providing some 2,420 jobs in the state, according to the National Mining Association.
The number of miners in the state used to be even higher, before the emergence of numerous health issues became apparent. One of those was "black lung disease," an irreversible condition also known as pneumoconiosis, a result of a build-up of coal dust in the lungs that results in inflammation, fibrosis and, in some cases, death of lung tissue.
Some 10,000 Americans have died from the condition over the last decade, and even though the disease is preventable, many miners are continuing to develop it. Since the early 1970s, benefits have been available to ailing coal miners, former coal miners and their dependents as part of the Black Lung Benefits Act. These benefits are paid out by private coal companies, though the claims are processed through the federal department of labor.