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Fact-check: Are Black Lung Cases at a 25-year High?



Scott Tiller, a coal miner of 31 years, takes a break while operating a continuous miner machine in a coal mine roughly 40-inches-high, Tuesday, Oct. 6, 2015, in Welch, W.Va. Photo: David Goldman/AP Photo

Are cases of black lung disease, a scourge of the coal-mining industry, more numerous today than in recent memory? That’s the message of a joint press release by U.S. Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va.

Black lung disease, also called coal workers’ pneumoconiosis, is caused by dusts that are inhaled and deposited in the lungs, which can create scar tissue that makes it more difficult to breathe. The condition can be prevented with appropriate respiratory protection, but once it develops, there is no cure, according to the American Lung Association.

The senators’ statement touted legislation to help with the early detection of black lung disease. The legislation requires the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health to submit a report to Congress on ways to boost outreach efforts to increase participation in the Coal Workers’ Health Surveillance Program. (We’re checking Manchin rather than Capito because he was the one quoted citing this particular statistic in the news release.)

The press release, posted on Manchin’s website on Aug. 23, 2018, said, “Black lung cases are at a 25-year high, and with today’s technology and our knowledge of this disease, that is simply unacceptable.”

Is this correct? We took a closer look.

The black lung study

The news release from Manchin and Capito cites a study published by the American Journal of Public Health. The study was produced by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention office in Morgantown, W.Va. Researchers used radiographs collected from 1970 to 2017 to determine the ebb and flow of the disease.

The study found that not only have black lung cases increased but also that their prevalence will likely be reflected in future trends of such conditions as progressive massive fibrosis, which refers to masses in the upper pulmonary lobes of the lungs.

Here are three charts from the study showing, from left to right, the prevalence of black lung in the United States as a whole; the prevalence in central Appalachia, defined as Kentucky, Virginia and West Virginia; and the prevalence in the United States outside of central Appalachia.

These charts show that around 1970, the prevalence of black lung was far higher than it is today — about 30 percent of miners with the longest tenures. That rate fell steadily, and by the late 1990s it had declined to the single digits.

But that decline has since reversed. Now, the national prevalence in miners with 25 years or more of tenure exceeds 10 percent, and in central Appalachia, 20.6 percent of long-tenured miners have the disease.

Manchin’s office did not respond to an inquiry for this article.

Our ruling

Manchin said that “black lung cases are at a 25-year high.”

A scientific study found that the prevalence of black lung disease plummeted between 1970 and the late 1990s, but that the rate has risen since then, although nowhere near its all-time high. That’s consistent with Manchin’s description. We rate the statement True.

This story was originally published by PolitiFact.

Fact Check

Fact-check: Does West Virginia Have More Overdoses Than Any State?



Photo: AP Photo

Does West Virginia have the nation’s leading rate of overdoses?

On Oct. 3, Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., tweeted, “#WV has the highest overdose rate per capita of any state in our nation. That’s why I made sure the SUPPORT for Patients & Communities Act included a set aside for states like WV. This language more than tripled the amount of funding coming to our state for this coming year.”


Here, we’ll focus on whether West Virginia “has the highest overdose rate per capita of any state in our nation.”

We turned to an analysis of data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that was collected and analyzed by the Kaiser Family Foundation. The data is from 2016.

Manchin’s tweet wasn’t specific about whether he was referring to opioid overdoses specifically or overdoses generally. The Kaiser Family Foundation analysis includes data for both, so we looked at both categories.

On both lists, West Virginia has the unhappy distinction of ranking No. 1.

Here’s a chart showing the data for opioid overdoses specifically. The data looks at the number of overdoses per 100,000 population, which is an equivalent measure to per capita. The opioid overdose rate in West Virginia easily outpaces the second-ranking state, New Hampshire.


As for overdoses overall, West Virginia finishes first, with Ohio ranking second.


Our ruling

Manchin said that West Virginia “has the highest overdose rate per capita of any state in our nation.”

Official government data shows that West Virginia ranks first per capita in both opioid overdoses specifically and in overdoses more generally. We rate the statement True.

This story was originally published by PolitiFact.

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Fact Check

Fact-check: Did West Virginia Lead the Way in Construction Job Growth?



FILE- In this Aug. 30, 2018, file photo a workers toil on a new home under construction in Denver. Photo:David Zalubowski/AP Photo FILE

Did West Virginia lead the nation in the growth of construction jobs jobs in 2017? The West Virginia Republican Party says it did.

On Sept. 14, the party tweeted, “Did you know West Virginia added the highest percentage of new construction jobs in 2017 in the United States, at 14.4%? This amounted to 4,300 additional jobs! In fact, #WV was the only state with double-digit growth! Read more about the #WVcomeback.”


The tweet linked to an article from the Wheeling News-Register citing those numbers. But we wanted to confirm this with original data.

It turns out that the source of the 50-state comparison is a report by the Associated General Contractors of America, a trade association in the construction industry. The comparison is drawn from data collected from the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Here are the five states with the biggest percentage increases during 2017:

State Increase in jobs Twelve-month percentage increase
West Virginia 4,300 14.4 percent
California 75,500 9.8 percent
Nevada 7,800 9.7 percent
New Mexico 4,300 9.7 percent
Idaho 3,800 8.7 percent

So the party’s tweet was accurate.

We also took a longer-term look at construction employment in the state. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, construction employment in West Virginia bottomed out in the second half of 2016 and rose consistently through the first quarter of 2018 before stabilizing.

Still, the current level of construction employment in West Virginia hasn’t returned to its nearly three-decade peak in the period before the onset of the Great Recession.

It’s worth noting that construction jobs, while important for people within the industry and within adjacent industries, only account for about 4.5 percent of non-agricultural employment in the state — about 34,000 construction jobs in August 2018 out of 752,000 nonfarm jobs in all.

“Total job growth clearly matters more to West Virginia citizens than employment in just one not-so-big industry,” said Gary Burtless, an economist with the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C.

Still, as far as the tweet’s limited claim goes, it is accurate.

Our ruling

The West Virginia Republican Party tweeted that “West Virginia added the highest percentage of new construction jobs in 2017 in the United States, at 14.4%? This amounted to 4,300 additional jobs! In fact, #WV was the only state with double-digit growth!”

A look at the original data shows that the No. 1 ranking, the percentage increase, and the raw increase in jobs are all correct. So is West Virginia’s distinction as the only state with double-digit growth in 2017. We rate the statement True.

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Fact Check

Fact-chek: Did Joe Manchin Support Obama and Clinton Efforts to Kill Coal Jobs?



In this Jan. 22, 2018, file photo, Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., talks with a staffer on Capitol Hill in Washington. Photo: Susan Walsh/Ap Photo FILE

Donald Trump Jr. tweeted his support for Republican U.S. Senate candidate Patrick Morrisey — and his opposition to Morrissey’s Democratic incumbent, Sen. Joe Manchin — on Oct. 13, 2018.

Trump Jr. tweeted, “Liberal Joe Manchin can’t be trusted to fight for West Virginia. He sold out Mountaineers when he supported Hillary Clinton over my father & on just about every other issue imaginable.”

The tweet attached a Morrissey campaign ad that included the charge that Manchin “supported Obama and Clinton’s campaigns to kill coal jobs.”


Those are fighting words in coal-producing West Virginia. So we wondered whether it is accurate that Manchin supported Hillary Clinton’s and Barack Obama’s efforts to kill coal jobs.

As we have previously noted, Manchin did back Clinton in the 2016 election — an endorsement that turned out to be strongly at odds with most voters in a state that voted strongly for her Republican opponent, Donald Trump. (Manchin later told Politico that his decision to stick by Clinton was “a mistake. It was a mistake politically.”)

But the Morrissey ad didn’t just refer to Manchin’s endorsement of the candidates. It went a step further and said that Manchin specifically supported their coal policies. And that doesn’t appear to be correct.

In his initial campaign for Senate in 2010, he famously ran an ad in which he shot a copy of the cap-and-trade bill proposed by Obama and other Democrats that would have curbed emissions, potentially hurting the coal industry. (The bill was never enacted.)

In an 2013 Washington Post article, Manchin said that Obama’s climate initiative — which would have put coal at a disadvantage to other forms of energy — amounted to a declaration of war on the coal industry. “The regulations the President wants to force on coal are not feasible. And if it’s not feasible, it’s not reasonable,” Manchin said.

Manchin went on to say in the article that it is not acceptable to get rid of coal. “It’s clear now that the president has declared a war on coal. It’s simply unacceptable that one of the key elements of his climate change proposal places regulations on coal that are completely impossible to meet with existing technology.”

He joined Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., to introduce the Affordable Reliable Energy Now Act, which the lawmakers touted as helping “rein in President Obama’s Clean Power Plan.”

In 2015, he emphasized his opposition to Obama’s Clean Power Plan in a letter to Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy. He also urged constituents to direct their opposition to the plan at field hearings.

Saying he believed that the plan would “result in escalating utility bills for Mountain State residents and even more coal mining job losses,” Manchin wrote that “forcing new coal-fired plants to meet standards when experts know that the required technology is not sustainably operational on a commercial scale makes absolutely no sense. By requiring technology that has never been adequately demonstrated, the EPA is forcing an industry to shut down and consumers to pay higher utility bills.”

He also voted to advance a resolution of disapproval under the Congressional Review Act to reverse the “Waters of the U.S.” (WOTUS) rule, arguing that it would “impact the coal mining in West Virginia.”

Manchin’s Senate website also examples of Manchin supporting the coal industry, such as introducing in 2018 the Fossil Energy Utilization, Enhancement, and Leadership Act, which was designed to “protect coal jobs and develop new technologies to be used domestically and exported internationally,” and supportingefforts to use the Defense Production Act to protect “clean-burning, coal-fired power plants.”

The Morrisey campaign did not respond to repeated requests to offer examples of Manchin opposing the coal industry.

Our ruling

A tweet posted by Patrick Morrisey and shared by Donald Trump Jr. said that Manchin “supported Obama and Clinton’s campaigns to kill coal jobs.”

Manchin actively opposed the two biggest efforts backed by Obama and Clinton over coal industry opposition: the cap-and-trade bill and the Clean Power Plan. He also pursued other legislative and regulatory efforts that aided the coal industry.

We rate the statement False.

This story was originally published by PolitiFact.

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