We have a long history of using the coal from Appalachian mountains to fuel our power stations and ignoring the harm to the people who mined it. Currently the miners cut through the quartz in the limestone to reach the coal, and the resulting silica dust is far more toxic than the coal dust responsible for black lung disease. So to have your government be so inept in workplace safety enforcement regarding this silica dust crusting the miner’s lungs as well as the coal dust turning his lungs black and useless for over 30 years, is so beyond tragic that it defies description.
We can, however, provide an alternative way of making a living for the families of men who will not survive the mines, and for those men who will consider a new one…..one that does not require a huge change in the way of life but will improve the standard of living for the family and provide for retirement. As it happens, it also would not need to be a huge expense if it is structured intelligently. It seems the locations of most mines in Appalachia happen to be good areas for white mulberry trees, and where you find white mulberry trees you can raise silk worms.
The government can require these mulberry trees be a part of the reclamation agreement with the mine owners, and support a master gardener program on raising and care of silk worms in those areas or its equivalent. State Extension Homemakers Councils such as Kentucky Extension Homemaker Associations, can teach the care of the silk worm and unwinding the silk. The silk coming from silk worms fed on white mulberry leaves is the highest quality of silk and is not an industry we have heavily represented in our economy, meaning there is little US competition. This implies the market for raw silk will be less prone to fluctuation.
Until those trees are mature and the silk worm culture is there to support the industry, those hills can support fields of meadowsweet which is used in the perfume, pharmaceutical industry, herbal remedies and the honey industry. Of those choices, the herbal remedies and the honey industry pair well. Bees also are needed pollinate mulberry trees. So silk, apiculture and cultivation of meadow sweet are three complementary options for the coal miners and their family to consider as alternative careers. All that is required is assistance with the transition. However, whether or not a formal program ever comes to the miners, they do not have to wait. These are projects they can begin and finance themselves.
This program is not ever going to make amends for the loss of life and family due, in part, to our government’s negligence. That we allowed this kind of health tragedy AGAIN is more than troublesome, and we need to give back to this community we neglected as well as investigate why it is we allow this today knowing what we do. These choices above do not change what happens in a mine, but they are alternatives to going there.
The pessimist complains about the wind; the optimist expects it to change; the realist adjusts the sails.
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