Purpose and Goals
Radiographs collected by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), under the Coal Workers’ Health Surveillance Program (CWHSP), as well as epidemiological studies by NIOSH have documented an alarming increase in cases of Coal Workers’ Pneumoconiosis (CWP) and Progressive Massive Fibrosis (PMF) among coal miners located primarily in Central Appalachia. These cases, which historically have presented themselves among older miners, following prolonged and continual exposure to coal dust (20-years), differ in that they are occurring among younger miners with shorter exposure duration (10-20 years). This has caused many to conclude that these new cases of disease result from increased exposure to crystalline silica. The presence of r-type opacities in radiographs have been associated with silicosis, and NIOSH has documented a six-fold increase in r-type opacities between radiographs taken in the 1980’s and 2010’s for miners in Central Appalachia.
While the Coal Workers’ Health Surveillance Program has provided data about the coal mining population, little is known about respirable crystalline silica exposure and disease among our nation’s non-coal miners. Since 1974, NIOSH has recommended an exposure limit for respirable crystalline silica of 0.05 mg/m3. In 2016, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) amended its existing respirable crystalline standard to establish a permissible exposure limit consistent with NIOSH’s recommendation.
In addition to these regulatory and non-regulatory actions, NIOSH and the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) have independently initiated actions to identify potential activities to enhance miner health. NIOSH funded a contract, with the assistance of the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine (NAS) that established a panel of experts to examine and provide recommendations to improve current procedures to assess underground coal miners’ exposure to dust, including quartz. Additionally, on August 29, 2019, MSHA published a Request for Information (RFI) to obtain “information and data on feasible, best practices to protect miners’ health from exposure to quartz in respirable dust, including an examination of an appropriately reduced permissible exposure limit, potential new or developing protective technologies, and/or technical and educational assistance.”
To assist NIOSH and MSHA, the agencies are convening a Respirable Mine Dust Partnership (RMDP). The purpose of the RMDP is to work with the agencies to safeguard the health of mine workers regarding exposure to respirable crystalline silica. Although the partnership will initially focus on respirable crystalline silica, the intent is for the partnership to address exposures to a broad range of respirable hazards in the future including but not limited to elongate mineral particles for example.
The partnership is neither constituted to carry out negotiated rulemaking; nor to function as a federal advisory committee. Furthermore, it is understood that one of the purposes of the work performed by NIOSH is to obtain information that may be made available by NIOSH to industry and the public through publication. It is agreed by the partners that any collaborative reports or publications arising from new activities undertaken as a result of this partnership will be reviewed by both NIOSH and the partners for technical accuracy, and quality and trade secret information. In no case shall NIOSH abandon its right to publish information resulting from the expenditure of public funds or the use of public facilities.
The specific goals of the partnership are as follows:
- Provide a forum to review existing literature and scientific studies regarding quartz exposure among miners and provide recommendations addressing shortcomings in the exposure data;
- Provide a forum for review, evaluation and discussion of the NAS report as well as the responses to the Mine Safety and Health Administration’s (MSHA’s) RFI, Respirable Silica (Quartz) (Docket No. MSHA-2019-18478). This includes identifying existing engineering controls and best practices used by mine operators, equipment manufacturers and personal protective equipment manufacturers, to reduce miners’ exposure to respirable silica (quartz);
- Provide a forum to identify easily achievable recommendations that will have near-term benefits to reduce miners’ exposure to respirable crystalline silica and other respirable hazards upon implementation; and
- Provide a forum for providing input on research gaps and technical direction with respect to respirable crystalline silica and other respirable hazards.
The partnership will operate with the following principles:
- Use the most up-to-date scientific methods, procedures and technological and economic feasibility information in the accomplishment of the work;
- Work closely, openly and in a spirit of cooperation with all organizations; and
- Post all information including the minutes of the meetings on MSHA’s and NIOSH’s websites.
The partnership will convene for the first meeting on February 5, 2020. It is anticipated the partnership will develop a schedule of meetings and deliverables at the first meeting.
The partnership will be organized, managed and co-chaired jointly by NIOSH and MSHA. Invited organizations will include representatives from labor, industry, coal and MNM operators, trade associations, equipment manufacturers, academia, health professionals, consultants, and State and Federal organizations.
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