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Coal mine dust samples indicate compliance with rule is highly achievable

ARLINGTON, Va. – Eight months after implementation of the final rule to prevent black lung disease by lowering miners’ exposure to harmful coal dust, sampling by mine operators and Mine Safety and Health Administration inspectors indicates that compliance with the rule’s tougher requirements is highly achievable.

“This is very good news for coal miners and validates the ability of mine operators to maintain the low dust levels to meet the new standard,” said Joseph A. Main, assistant secretary of labor for mine safety and health. This news was delivered Thursday morning at a hearing of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce’s Subcommittee on Workforce Protections.

Last April, MSHA published a final rule to lower miners’ exposure to respirable coal mine dust in all underground and surface coal mines. From Aug. 1, 2014, through March 31, 2015 – during the first phase of the rule – more than 41,000 dust samples were collected, and sampling results show that about 99 percent are in compliance.

Furthermore, the yearly average of respirable dust levels of designated mining occupations in underground coal mines dropped to a historic low level in 2014, and have dropped each year since MSHA launched its “End Black Lung – Act Now”campaign in 2009.

“Better dust control systems are in place than ever before for our nation’s coal miners,” said Main. “This rule is working.”

Of the total respirable dust samples collected in the eight-month period, 30,725 were taken from underground mines with 439 of those samples (or 1.4 percent) exceeding compliance levels used to determine if a violation has occurred. The remaining samples were taken at surface mine areas. Of those, 10,596 samples, (or 99.7 percent) met compliance levels.

The final rule lowers the concentration of coal dust that miners breathe; improves sampling practices to better reflect actual working conditions to protect all miners from overexposures; and makes use of cutting-edge technology developed to provide real-time information about dust levels. It also allows miners and operators to identify problems and make necessary adjustments; and requires immediate corrective action for excessive levels of dust. The rule has a phase-in over a two-year period to give the industry the time it needs to adjust to the new requirements, acquire monitoring equipment, and obtain compliance assistance from MSHA.

Prolonged exposure to respirable coal mine dust causes lung diseases, such as coal workers’ pneumoconiosis, emphysema and progressive massive fibrosis. These diseases, collectively referred to as black lung, can lead to permanent disability and death. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health  estimates more than 76,000 miners have died since 1968 as the result of the disease, and more than $45 billion in federal compensation benefits have been paid out to coal miners disabled by black lung and their survivors. Evidence indicates that miners, including young miners, continue to be diagnosed with the disease.

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Media Contact:
Amy Louviere, 202-693-9423, louviere.amy@dol.gov
Release Number: 15-748-NAT