Kentucky black lung deaths to be memorialized by headstone

WHITESBURG, Ky. (WYMT) - A Kentucky group made up of black lung disease sufferers and supporters is dedicating a memorial to miners who died of the disease.

The Black Lung Association of Southeastern Kentucky hosted the event in Whitesburg Sunday.

The disease is caused by breathing coal dust and rates of the disease have climbed in recent years.

Members of the association have been calling attention to a government trust fund that provides about 19,000 sickened miners or their surviving dependents with living and medical benefits. A tax that supplies the fund was cut in half at the beginning of the year.

"The dedication finally brings to light that these miners give their lives to support their families every day, now we can honor them," said Gabrielle Helle.

Since 2000, the rate of black lung disease has doubled across the United States.

"It's not just a job. It's a way of life and they give their lives for it. They deserve to be honored," explained Helle.

Helle helped organize a dedication to those miners who are battling the disease.

"There isn't a miner that doesn't go underground or on the surface that isn't affected. They just needed to be honored," Helle pointed out.

Names of miners who lost their lives to black lung disease from Letcher and the surrounding counties are etched in the stone.

"I have two great-grandfathers and a grandfather that's on it and countless others that we know. So it means a lot to me personally," said Helle.

Many families spent time at the event. Around 100 people were there.

William McCool spent 40 years in the coal mines.

"I've done just about everything you can do in the mine and that's where I contracted Black Lung,"

Now, he struggles with everyday activities.

"I'm tired and hard to breathe," McCool pointed out. "It seems like the air is thin. It makes it hard."

McCool told WYMT the monument gave him hope.

"I love it, I sure do. I was here the day they set it. It really makes my heart rejoice," said McCool.

There are 120 names on it.

Organizers said it took them three years to get the stone together.

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