Read the proposal at: http://blogs.wvgazette.com/coaltattoo/
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The Obama administration on Thursday proposed to toughen limits on coal dust exposure as part of a broad plan officials hope will eliminate black lung, a disease that has killed nearly 10,000 coal miners in the last decade alone.
U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration officials also proposed to require more advanced continuous monitoring and more accurate sampling methods to better estimate exposure and protect miners from the disease.
"Protecting miners' health is a priority of the Department of Labor," said Labor Secretary Hilda Solis, whose department oversees MSHA. "This proposed rule takes concrete steps to end the terrible disease of black lung and will improve miners' lives."
The United Mine Workers union said the proposal helps move the coal industry away from a "shameful past" where dust levels went unregulated, and the plan drew praise from a variety of black lung advocacy groups and public health officials.
MSHA issued its 539-page proposal based in large part on 15-year-old recommendations from scientists and government experts, amid the backdrop of growing evidence of a resurgence of black lung among younger miners in the Appalachian coalfields.
"It looks like a major step toward reversing the problems we're seeing," said Dr. Edward L. Petsonk, a top black lung physician and researcher at West Virginia University.
Black lung, or coal workers' pneumoconiosis, is actually a collection of debilitating and potentially fatal ailments caused by breathing coal dust.
In 1969, Congress made eliminating black lung a national goal, with a law that required mine operators to take steps to limit exposure. The law greatly reduced black lung among the nation's miners. But at least in part because of industry cheating on dust samples, the law has fallen far short of the goal.
Over roughly the last decade, nearly 10,000 coal miners nationwide have died of black lung. Reports in 1995 and 1996 by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health and a Labor Department advisory panel recommended tightening the legal dust limit from 2 milligrams per cubic meter to 1 milligram per cubic meter.
Researchers have warned of a doubling of black lung rates since 1997, and of alarming incidents of the disease among younger miners whose entire careers took place under the 1969 law's dust limits.
"At the end of the day, the only logical conclusion you can make is that we need to change the regulations to protect these miners," said Joe Main, assistant labor secretary for MSHA. "It is the right thing to do."