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MSHA News Release No. 96-018
Mine Safety and Health Administration
Contact: Rodney Brown & Sue Blumenthal
Phone: (703) 235-1456 & (202) 219-7316

November 20, 1996


Twenty recommendations for eliminating black lung and silicosis among 133,000 American coal miners were issued today by an advisory committee appointed by Labor Secretary Robert B. Reich. The 116 page report addresses virtually every aspect of existing practices that protect coal miners from the diseases. Committee representatives from labor, mining, and academia unanimously approved the majority of the recommendations.

"American coal miners work daily in dangerous conditions in order to produce the fuel for more than half our nation's electric power. They deserve nothing less than to work without fear of developing a disease that will cripple their lives and their livelihoods," said Reich. "The recommendations released today specifically address the conditions that cause black lung and silicosis and spell out what needs to be done to abolish them from all coal mines."

The nine-member Advisory Committee on the Elimination of Pneumoconiosis Among Coal Mine Workers recommended that the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) take full responsibility for all coal mine dust sampling conducted to determine compliance with exposure standards. Currently, MSHA collects only 25 percent of dust samples; the bulk are gathered by mine operators. It suggests that if necessary, mine operators should pay for expanded MSHA dust sampling. As an interim measure, the group recommended that dust sampling by mine operators be strengthened, for example by increasing MSHA's presence at mines found to have a history of noncompliance with dust standards.

"We'll consider all the committee's recommendations carefully," said Davitt McAteer, assistant secretary of labor for mine safety and health. "Some recommendations could be adopted quickly through administrative changes. Other recommendations will demand longer-term consideration, research or rulemaking. But now is the time to get started, and we will begin the process immediately."

In additional recommendations, the advisory committee said MSHA should:

--Establish separate permissible exposure limits for silica (quartz) and coal mine dust;

--Require mine operators to verify that their dust control plans work effectively before MSHA approves the plan;

--Include surface coal miners in periodic x-rays offered to underground coal miners;

--Consider lowering the allowable exposure limit on coal mine dust;

--Reduce silica exposure of coal miners to prevent silicosis;

--Improve dust control in surface coal mines;

--Focus more attention on dust exposure of independent contractor employees in coal mines;

--Improve miner training on dust;

--Continue to push research on ways to achieve continuous monitoring of dust levels;

--Further review the "Part 90" program that lets miners with signs of black lung transfer into low-dust jobs;

--Make a number of additional changes to improve dust monitoring and control in coal mines.

Reich asked the advisory committee to review all aspects of the federal program to prevent black lung and silicosis among coal miners, including exposure limits, dust control methods and dust monitoring strategies.

"Black lung" is a common term for coal workers' pneumoconiosis caused by excessive exposure to coal mine dust. Silicosis is a lung disease specifically related to excessive quartz dust exposure, which can be a factor in many coal mines. Severe black lung or silicosis can continue to worsen even after exposure to the dust stops. Either disease can be disabling and, potentially, fatal.

The incidence of dust-related lung disease among U.S. coal miners has decreased with improved dust control since passage of the Federal Coal Mine Health and Safety Act of 1969 (Coal Act). However, some cases of black lung and silicosis continue to be diagnosed even in coal miners who entered the industry after 1969.

According to a 1994 report by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), black lung was mentioned on more than 55,000 death certificates between 1968 and 1990.

The annual cost of federal black lung benefits currently exceeds $1.2 billion; total costs of the program since its inception in 1970 approach $33 billion.

The advisory committee included two labor representatives, two industry representatives and five academic members with no economic interest in the mining industry or government. The committee held discussions at five public meetings earlier this year in Arlington, Va.; Pittsburgh, Pa.; Charleston, W.Va.; Salt Lake City, Utah; and Lexington, Ky. At these meetings, the committee also heard from some 75 members of the public, most of them working miners.

Members of the advisory committee visited three mines to observe respirable dust control technology: the Dilworth Mine near Washington, Pa.; the Hobet No. 21 surface mine near Charleston, W.Va.; and the Deercreek Mine, near Price, Utah. The committee also reviewed the latest technical studies and visited the Pittsburgh Research Center in Bruceton, Pa. (recently transferred from the Energy Department to the Health and Human Services Department's National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health), to discuss ongoing research.

"The recommendations are the result of many days of discussion and debate and reflect the committee's best judgment on how to eliminate coal worker's pneumoconiois and silicosis which have plagued our nation's coal miners for far too many years," said David Wegman, committee chair, in a letter transmitting the committee's report to Secretary Reich. Wegman, a physician and epidemiologist who is chairman of the Department of Work Environment at the University of Massachusetts Lowell, commended the committee members on their efforts--and success--at reaching consensus on a majority of recommendations. The report includes minority positions on the remaining issues.

Congress in the 1969 Coal Act first established federal standards for coal mine dust exposure as well as a federal benefits program for miners with black lung. Currently, every underground coal mine is required to follow an approved mine ventilation plan that includes specific dust control measures designed to protect miners from overexposure to dust.

Coal mine operators nationwide last year collected over 65,000 coal mine dust samples, which MSHA analyzed to determine compliance with exposure limits. Another 21,000 coal mine dust samples were taken last year by MSHA inspectors.

Coal mine dust samples are taken over a full 8-hour working shift using a sampling pump that draws dusty air through a filter enclosed in a tamper-resistant cassette. The weight of the respirable coal mine dust collected indicates the concentration in the mine air where the sample was taken.

The report of the Advisory Committee on the Elimination of Pneumoconiosis Among Coal Mine Workers is available on the World Wide Web, at MSHA's Home Page, Single copies also may be requested from MSHA, Coal Mine Safety and Health, Division of Health, 4015 Wilson Blvd., Arlington, VA 22203, telephone (703) 235-1358.

Members of the Advisory Committee on the Elimination of Pneumoconiosis Among Coal Miners, with affiliations while they served on the Committee, were:

David Wegman, (advisory committee chairman) chairman of the Department of Work Environment, and a professor in the College of Engineering at the University of Massachusetts Lowell. A physician and epidemiologist, Wegman also chaired a National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) working group on lung disease surveillance in miners and edited one of the leading textbooks in the field of occupational health.

John Dement, an associate professor in the division of occupational and environmental medicine at Duke University Medical Center in Durham, NC. Dement previously directed the office of disease prevention and exposure research for the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. He has a joint doctoral degree in industrial hygiene/epidemiology and is editor of Applied Occupational and Environmental Hygiene.

Kathleen Kreiss, affiliated with the department of preventive medicine and biometrics at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center inDenver. She is also an associate professor at the University of Colorado School of Medicine. Kreiss has written about occupational lung disease and is a NIOSH-certified "B" reader of pneumoconiosis x-ray films.

Raja Ramani, professor of mining engineering and head of the Department of Mineral Engineering at Pennsylvania State University. Ramani is also director of the Generic Mineral Technology Center for Respirable Dust and has published more than 150 research papers dealing with mine planning and design, mine health and safety, and productivity.

Carol Rice, an associate professor of environmental health at the Kettering Laboratory,University of Cincinnati. Rice is past chairperson of the American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists (ACGIH) and has published numerous research papers dealing with the measurement and control of workplace contaminants.

John Gibbs, vice president of health management and corporate medical director of the Kerr-McGee Corp. in Oklahoma City. He is an adjunct associate professor of occupational environmental medicine at the University of Oklahoma. Gibbs also serves on the occupational health committee of the National Mining Association.

Joseph Lamonica, vice-president for health, safety and training at the Bituminous Coal Operators' Association, Inc., in Washington, D.C. Lamonica previously served as director of health, safety and engineering for the Island Creek Coal Co. in Lexington, Ky. Prior to that, he was administrator for coal mine safety and health at the Mine Safety and Health Administration, U.S. Department of Labor.

Joseph Main, administrator of the department of occupational health and safety at the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) in Washington, D.C., for 13 years. Main, a former surface and underground miner, directs a staff of union safety officials who inspect mines and investigate accidents at UMWA mines.

James Weeks, associate research professor in the division of occupational and environmental medicine at the George Washington University Medical Center in Washington, D.C. A certified industrial hygienist, Weeks has published papers in the scientific literature on coal mine dust exposures and the effectiveness of mine safety regulations.