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MSHA News Release No. 95-038
Mine Safety and Health Administration
Contact: (703) 235-1452

October 6, 1995


The Department of Labor's Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA), in cooperation with the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), will conduct free, confidential lung screening tests for active and retired surface coal miners throughout November at the Eastern Oklahoma Medical Center, Poteau, Okla.

The tests will be used to determine the presence of silicosis among surface miners. Silica is generated during the drilling and crushing of rock and loading of mined material. Excessive exposure to silica dust can lead to silicosis, an incurable and often disabling lung disease.

In February 1995, MSHA's health division discovered a high silica (quartz) content at six mines in eastern Oklahoma. All six of these mines work in the same locality and mine the same seam of coal with very similar strata.

"Based on our findings, miners working in this area of the United States may be exposed to high levels of silica and may experience a higher incident rate of silicosis," said J. Davitt McAteer, assistant labor secretary for mine safety and health. "We want miners and mine operators to recognize this potential problem and help us take steps to prevent silicosis."

"In conjunction with the x-ray testing, MSHA is educating and training mine operators and miners about the hazards of silica exposure and the increased importance of maintaining dust control measures, including the use of respiratory protection," said MSHA District Manager John Kuzar, who initiated the screening program in Oklahoma.

In the summer of 1994, MSHA and NIOSH conducted similar tests on 150 volunteer coal drillers and miners from the Johnstown and Clearfield, Pa., areas. The results of that study identified eight cases of silicosis. Two of the eight individuals also were identified with progressive massive fibrosis (PMF), a condition in which large masses of lung tissue become scarred.

Silicosis has long been recognized as a serious health hazard in the mining industry. It has been regulated by the federal government since passage of the Coal Mine Health and Safety Act of 1969. In that legislation, Congress required the development of a formula to reduce the amount of respirable dust in the mine below that normally allowed whenever the quartz (crystalline silica) content in the atmosphere is greater than 5 percent. This requirement was based on the recognition that the toxicity of coal mine dust increases when higher levels of quartz are found.

To sign up for free x-ray screening, call Donalee Boatright or Jimmy Stewart at (918) 423-5966, or Lester Coleman at (918) 647-2280.