Coal Mine Residue and Health

coal mine

The U.S. Department of Labor’s Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) has lowered standard level of allowable coal dust in underground and surface coal mines. The move has received praise from labor groups and ire from industry executives. The intention of the change is to eradicate the incidence of Black Lung disease among coal miners by reducing mine residue and its subsequent impact to health. Black Lung disease has killed 76,000 coal miners since 1968 and has cost the federal government $45 billion in compensation to those affected.

The department has implemented a comprehensive program titled, End Black Lung – Act Now!, and this latest effort to fight the disease will reduce coal dust exposure by up to 25%. The rule will also insist on regular sampling of coal dust saturation so that workers can keep tabs on their exposure. Allowing for real-time monitoring of coal dust will allow workers to respond proactively to airborne carcinogens rather than waiting until it’s too late.

Current practice allows workers to monitor coal dust, but only for 8 hours. Then, the samples are sent to a lab and results come back several days later. By that time the damage is done.

The MSHA’s new rule allows for a two-year phase-in period that allows the industry time to purchase and install the new equipment into their workflow. Once the rules are fully implemented, mine workers should begin to see a reduction in coal mine residue and its impact to their health.

Industry insiders, who dislike spending extra money to protect the workers who produce the profit, claim that the measures are too broad. Their solution is to cycle workers through high-concentrations of coal dust to limit exposure in that way. Hal Quinn, president of the National Mining Association, claimed that black lung is decreasing and characterized the new regulations as being a ″silver bullet″ solution to a complex problem.

The rules are flexible to mandate greater sampling in areas known for higher coal dust concentrations and prescribes actions for times when dust levels exceed the new standard. The rules also require the most high-tech equipment be used so as to reduce the impact of coal mine residue on health.

The industry has not previously attempted to protect their workers in the way they now propose. Only under the pressure of government regulation have they bothered to propose actions which would protect the greater good of their workers, and their company. Proposals do not equate to actions, nor are they codified mandates. On the other hand, the MSHA has been working hard to advocate for the health and safety of the workers, against corporate resistance. The MSHA has taken action where no other action has taken place.

Coal mine residue has a grave impact on the health and safety of workers. Given that the coal mining industry is vital to the energy industry in the United States, worker health and safety is vital to keeping that business healthy and operating at a maximum efficiency. Further, the industry can no longer expect the taxpayers to bail it out when workers are afflicted with Black Lung, a condition which harms workers, their families, and their entire local economy. Now that action has been initiated, workers can look forward to a healthier future for themselves and their families.

By Hobie Anthony
Sources:
Department of Labor
MSHA
Post-Gazette
Wall Street Journal

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