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I. E. Buff

Occupational health crusader Isadore E. Buff (August 27, 1908-March 14, 1974) was born in Utica, New York and moved to Charleston with his parents later that year. He graduated from the University of Louisville School of Medicine in 1931.

A cardiologist, Buff was the first physician to complain that the death certificates of coal miners frequently listed the cause of death as a heart attack when he contended that pneumoconiosis— black lung disease —placed such a burden on the heart that it was the precipitating cause. Long before others spoke out, Buff was thundering that half of the state’s 40,000 coal miners had black lung and were being denied workers’ compensation. Early on, the Charleston Gazette chastised him editorially. Then he took on the United Mine Workers for failing to include any coverage of lung disease in their contract.

In the late 1960s, Buff was joined by Drs. Donald L. Rasmussen and Hawey A. Wells Jr. in organizing a series of coalfield rallies. Buff, an accomplished showman, was the star performer. He was one of the key forces behind liberalizing the state workers’ compensation law to cover pneumoconiosis and the Federal Coal Mine Health and Safety Act of 1969, which put a ceiling on the amount of coal dust allowed in the mines and provided compensation for black lung victims. Buff died in Charleston.

Written by Ken Hechler