Black-lung clinics call for more action to protect coal miners

A coalition of black-lung clinics is calling for the federal government to better protect coal miners from breathing dust that causes the disease, but the government’s top mine safety and health regulator said recently he has no plans to do so.

The statement, released by the National Coalition of Black Lung and Respiratory Disease Clinics, comes in the wake of a recent investigation by NPR and PBS’s Frontline which found that more than 2,300 miners in central Appalachia are sick with black lung or massive fibrosis.

The report went on to say that industry and government regulators are not taking decisive action to prevent it or adequately treat or release benefits to afflicted miners, Jeff Young reports for Ohio Valley Resource.

The coalition said in the statement that the federal government has “more than enough data” to conclude that current practices expose miners to a dangerous level of risk and that new safety measures must be implemented, Young reports.

“Specifically, the coalition asks regulators to enact a standard to control the dust generated when mining equipment cuts into rock containing silica, or quartz. Silica dust is highly toxic and, as the NPR investigation shows, health advisors urged tighter control standards on that dust decades ago,” because it causes fibrosis, Young reports. “In a recent call with mining industry stakeholders, the government’s top mine safety and health regulator, David Zatezalo, said he would have ‘no announcements’ on any new measures to control dust or to address lung disease among miners.”

Zatezalo, a former mining executive, defended the Mine Safety and Health Administration’s system of monitoring dust exposure in mines, saying they have more than doubled sampling and use personal dust monitors, and that incidents where samples exceed the dust standard are one-third to one-fifth as common as they were before the new monitoring was put in place, Young reports.

“However, the new devices do not specifically monitor for dust from quartz or silica. And as the NPR investigation points out, MSHA’s own data show that earlier attempts to use an overall dust standard to control quartz dust exposure resulted in thousands of incidents where miners were exposed to excessive quartz dust,” Young reports.

The Rural Blog is published by the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues.