Mr. Jim DeMarce, Director of the Labor Department’s Division of Coal Mine Workers’ Compensation, passed away suddenly on April 12.  He served coal miners and their families for 25 years, helping them wade through the federal black lung benefits program.  He was also known more recently for his efforts during the Clinton Administration to improve the regulations for processing that seem forever stacked against workers in favor of coal mine operators. 

Steve Sanders of the Appalachian Citizen’s Law Center said this about Jim DeMarce:

I was acquainted with Jim for about 10 years through my work on black lung benefits claims.  He regularly attended the annual meeting of the Black Lung Clinics and Respiratory Disease Clinics.   Each year Jim would give a presentation on the federal black lung program with statistical information, such as the approvals and length of time for adjudications. 

Jim was very concerned about disabled miners and widows and wanted to see the black lung benefits program serve the disabled miners and widows in the ways it was intended.  He worked on the 2000 amendments to the regulations, trying to create a more level playing field for claimants, who up to that time were being completely overwhelmed by the superior resources of the insurance companies fighting against them. 

Jim and his co-workers at the Department promulgated regulations that placed reasonable limits on the number of x-ray readings, tests and medical opinions, which either party could offer as evidence in a proceeding on a claim for benefits.  More recently,  Jim was bothered by the NIOSH data showing an increased incidence of coal workers pneumoconiosis (CWP) and progressive massive fibrosis (PMF).  He recently began providing information in his presentation at the annual clinics conference on the number of claims filed by miners with PMF who began working after the 1969 Coal Mine  Health and Safety Act mandated limits on respirable dust. 

Jim really enjoyed working on ways to make the federal black lung program more responsive to the needs of disabled miners and widows.  Jim was a very intelligent person who will be missed for his wisdom and dedication. 

 Upon learning of Jim DeMarce’s passing, Cecil Roberts, President of the United Mine Workers of America said:

“[He] worked tirelessly for more than a quarter century to ensure that miners and families devastated by black lung disease receive the federal benefits to which they are entitled. He will be greatly missed.”

In a statement issued by the Labor Department, Secretary Hilda Solis said:

“For many years, Jim has been the face and soul of the department’s black lung benefits program for everyone from union officials and mine workers, to members of the coal industry, to state workers’ compensation officials, to congressional staffers and to every Labor Department staff person who contributed to making this program work.  All of them relied upon Jim’s encyclopedic knowledge of every aspect of the program, his rock-solid judgment and his unflagging support for coal miners facing black lung, a terrible, man-made illness.

Jim was the consummate civil servant, in the best sense of that term. He cared about the workers his program served and about his co-workers at the Labor Department. He will be deeply missed by all of us.”

During my years at the Labor Department, I would hear Jim DeMarce’s name mentioned whenever officials wanted to hear from the expert on federal black lung benefits.  In February of this year, I exchanged emails and phone conversations with him to learn his perspective on the troubling new data on new cases of serious lung disease in U.S. coal miners.  He generously shared data with me about this disturbing occupational health problem, recognizing that evidence of this sort is meaningless unless shared with the public.  He was a compassionate man who was pained to know that U.S. coal miners in the year 2010 were still developing black lung disease and silicosis—-illnesses that are 100% preventable.

Mr. DeMarce is survived by his wife of 47 years, Virginia, three grown children and seven grandchildren.  His memorial page and death notice recommends donations to the Southern Poverty Law Center, Montgomery, AL or WAMU 88.5 radio’s Bluegrass Country.

Celeste Monforton, DrPH, MPH is an asst. research professor at the George Washington University School of Public Health & Health Services.  She worked at the US Dept of Labor from 1991-2001.