Rulemakers are moving to make good on a 40-year-old promise to end black lung with the announcement of new coal dust regulations. Officials from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, the Department of Labor, and the Mine Safety and Health Administration announced new coal dust regulations.
Coalworker's pneumoconiosis, or black lung disease, continues to plagued coal miners as it has for decades. Over the years $45 billion dollars in compensation has been given to some 200,000 miners.
New rules aim to lower exposure to coal dust by closing regulation loopholes, improves testing, and increases frequency of testing.
Among new regulations:
- Standard 2 milligrams of dust per cubic meter of air to 1.5, and cuts in half the standard from 1.0 to 0.5 for certain mine entries and miners with pneumoconiosis
- New, cutting edge, sampling technology will be phased in providing mine operators with continuous, real-time dust level monitoring – phased in as producers make technology available
- Correctional actions must be taken immediately when high dust levels are detected
- Sampling more consecutive shifts, and entire shifts
- Impact inspection program extended; noncompliant mining operations will be required to increase sampling
- Top mine officials must sign off on new dusting measures
- Medical surveillance tools extended to surface miners
- By August 1, 2014: Improved sampling measures adopted
- By February 1, 2016: New, continuous, real-time dust sampling device implemented
- By August 1, 2016: New 1.5 milligram maximum dust level standard adopted
The disease has claimed the lives of 76,000 miners, which, U.S. Labor Secretary Thomas Perez pointed out, is 5 miners each day for the last forty years. And in recent years, the number of younger miners affected has risen significantly.
Autopsies performed on the 29 miners killed at the Upper Big Branch mine disaster in the 2010 revealed that most of those men had black lung disease, including five miners who had worked less than 10 years, and one miner who was only 25 years old.
Miners breathe in coal and worse, silica dust, which is especially damaging and more prevalent in the thinner seams of coal that are more frequently mined in Appalachia these days. That dust isn’t expelled from the lungs. It accumulates and slowly continues to cut, scar, and harden the lungs, making each breath excruciating and increasingly difficult.
While there is no cure, the disease is highly preventable.