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DOL/MSHA Media Advisory
Mine Safety and Health Administration
Contact: Kathy Snyder
Phone: (202) 693-9422

Released Tuesday, July 8, 2003

Court of Appeals Rules for MSHA on Dust Sampling

Arlington, Va -- The Mine Safety and Health Administration may average samples taken on a single working shift to determine compliance with standards designed to protect coal miners from black lung disease, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled today. The court reversed an earlier ruling by the Federal Mine Safety and Health Review Commission that required the government to average samples taken during multiple shifts.

"This ruling is a victory for coal miners because it will help to ensure that their health is protected during every single working shift," said Secretary of Labor Elaine L. Chao concerning the decision in the case, titled Secretary of Labor v. Excel Mining, LLC. "Our goal is to have every miner go home healthy at the end of every working day."

MSHA has based regular compliance determinations under the respirable coal mine dust standard on multiple samples taken over a single shift since 1975. Excel Mining had challenged that practice in contesting three citations for respirable dust violations that MSHA issued to the company in 1999.

"With this ruling we can identify overexposures using multiple samples in a single shift and require corrective action," said Dave D. Lauriski, Assistant Secretary of Labor for Mine Safety and Health. "Meanwhile, we await the results of current research on personal continuous dust monitors, which we hope will provide the next quantum jump in monitoring miners' dust exposures."

While waiting for results of the research on continuous dust monitors, the Federal mine agency recently suspended work on regulatory proposals that would allow compliance determinations based on a single full-shift sample as well as set new requirements for verifying coal mine operators' dust control plans. The Excel decision does not affect these proposals.

Federal coal mine health standards provide that each coal mine operator must maintain the average concentration of respirable dust at or below 2.0 milligram per cubic meter of air on each shift. MSHA is dedicated to preventing fatalities, injuries and illnesses in America's mines through enforcement, education and training, and technical assistance. For more information, visit www.msha.gov.