Tuesday, August 17, 2010

From Black Lung to White Lung

Anyone who regularly reads Central Jersey obituaries should be familiar with the City of Nanticoke in Pennsylvania, often the birthplace listed.

Nanticoke was a destination in the late 19th and early 20th centuries for immigrants looking for work in American coal mines. When my grandparents arrived, they became quickly familiar with Polish Hill and the Welsh section, with immigrants from Poland and Wales the source of many of the mines' employees.

But many of the families did not want their boys going underground. So, the story goes in my family, when Johns-Manville came to Luzerne County (where Nanticoke is located) looking for employees for its Manville, NJ, manufacturing plant, they found willing workers.

These lucky men, the tale continues, felt that not only would they not have to go underground to work, they would be avoiding the coal miners' scourge - black lung, Coal workers' pneumoconiosis.

It was decades before they came to understand the trade that they had made, going to work with asbestos - white lung, mesothelioma, a cancer caused by asbestos exposure.

For many years I have tried to verify the truth of this story, so I am going to make another trip to Nanticoke...where my grandfather died from black lung in the 1950s.

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