Federal regulators released rules to curb black-lung disease by reducing the amount of coal dust underground miners can end up exposed to.
“No one should have to die for a paycheck,” Labor Secretary Thomas Perez said in Morgantown, WV, where they released the new standard. “It is time to put black lung into the history books once and for all.”
Under the new rules, the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) will require miners to wear real-time dust monitors, expand dust sampling, close sampling loopholes, institute faster enforcement against violations and increase medical surveillance of miners.
The agency also will require the concentration limits for breathable coal mine dust be cut by 25 percent to 1.5 milligrams per cubic meter of air.
“Our goal is to lower dust levels that miners breathe … to a level that we’re comfortable with,” said MSHA chief Joseph Main. “All of these changes collectively get us there.”
The mining industry objected to the new rule, saying incidences of increased black lung disease were concentrated only in certain areas.
“Rather than follow the evidence with a focused response, MSHA has unfortunately decided to proceed with a less effective one-size-fits-all nationwide approach,” National Mining Association President Hal Quinn said. The new standards “cannot be met by existing technologies,” he said.
Excessive exposure to high levels of coal dust causes black lung, which results in disabilities and early death. Large amounts of coal dust also are an explosion hazard.
Black lung has caused or contributed to the deaths of more than 75,000 coal miners since 1968, according to the Government Accountability Office. The government also has paid out more than $45 billion in black-lung benefits since 1970.
West Virginia had 17,065 underground coal miners in 2012, followed by Kentucky at 11,181, according to the National Mining Association.
MSHA originally proposed in October 2010 that concentration limits for respirable coal mine dust be cut from 2 milligrams per cubic meter of air to 1 milligram. But the final rule — to phase in over two years, starting Aug. 1 — sets the limits at 1.5 milligrams.