MSHA Takes Bold Step to End Black Lung Disease, Proposes Tough New Regulation

by Celeste Monforton

October 14, 2010

Cross-posted from The Pump Handle.

Labor Secretary Hilda Solis and MSHA asst. secretary Joe Main are proposing new rules to protect U.S. coal mine workers from developing illnesses related to exposure to respirable coal mine dust. The most commonly known adverse health effect is black lung disease, but exposure is also associated with excess risk of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, progressive massive fibrosis, chronic bronchitis, and emphysema. The proposal, scheduled to be published in the Federal Register on Oct 19,* takes a comprehensive approach to the problem. I've not had a chance to read carefully the entire lengthy document, but I see provisions to reduce the permissible exposure limit for respirable coal dust from 2.0 mg/m3 to 1.0 mg/m3 (phased-in over 2 years), change the way miners' exposure to coal dust is measured from an average over five shifts to a single, full-shift sample (consistent with standard industrial hygiene practice) and monitor of coal dust levels based on typical production levels in the mine. During the Clinton and the GW Bush Administration, MSHA proposed rules addressing these same problems, but they were never issued as final rules. I'm hopeful this third time will be the charm.

In August 2010, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) requested public comment on a compilation of the best available scientific information on adverse health effects from exposure to respirable coal dust. The document is a follow-up to NIOSH's 300+ page Criteria Document published in September 1995 which recommended that MSHA adopt an exposure limit of 1 mg/m3 for a 10-hour shift. In the draft NIOSH update, the agency reaffirms its conclusions from 15 years earlier:

**Exposure to coal mine dust causes various pulmonary diseases, including coal workers' pneumoconiosis and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
**These lung diseases can bring about impairment, disability and premature death.

See the faces and hear the voices of U.S. miners who have severe respiratory diseases because of their work in these video clips produced by the Louisville Courier-Journal.

*Note: the document is available on-line today at the Federal Register "public inspection desk" site.

Be the first to comment on this entry.
We ask for your email address so that we may follow up with you, ask you to clarify your comment in some way, or perhaps alert you to someone else's response. Only the name you supply and your comment will be displayed on the site to the public. Our blog is a forum for the exchange of ideas, and we hope to foster intelligent, interesting and respectful discussion. We do not apply an ideological screen, however, we reserve the right to remove blog posts we deem inappropriate for any reason, but particularly for language that we deem to be in the nature of a personal attack or otherwise offensive. If we remove a comment you've posted, and you want to know why, ask us (info@progressivereform.org) and we will tell you. If you see a post you regard as offensive, please let us know.

Also from Celeste Monforton

Celeste Monforton joined the Milken Institute School of Public Health in 2006. She is a regular contributor to the "Pump Handle," a blog known as "a water cooler for the public health crowd." She continues her work in occupational health and maintains her ties to The George Washington University by serving as a professorial lecturer.

The Center for Progressive Reform

455 Massachusetts Ave., NW, #150-513
Washington, DC 20001
info@progressivereform.org
202.747.0698

© Center for Progressive Reform, 2015