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MSHA News Release No. 98-0723
Mine Safety and Health Administration
Contact: Rodney Brown
Phone: (703) 235-1452

Thursday, July 23, 1998

Next Step in Campaign to End Black Lung

An eastern Kentucky mine and a northern West Virginia mine are sites for the next step in the campaign to end black lung--installing and testing a device to continuously monitor dust in the mines. The Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) begin underground installations and evaluations of the continuous dust monitor within the next two weeks.

"Research on a continuous, machine-mounted respirable dust monitor was one of some 100 action items recommended in November 1996 by a special advisory committee we appointed to address the problem of black lung disease," said Secretary of Labor Alexis M. Herman. "Successful use of this device would be a highly significant development in our quest to eliminate this dreaded disease from the Nation's mines."

"Right now, respirable coal mine dust samples have to be taken over an 8-hour shift and then analyzed in a laboratory to determine the concentration of dust to which miners are exposed," said Davitt McAteer, assistant secretary of labor for mine safety and health. "Use of this device could mean much quicker identification and correction of dust problems."

Preliminary testing of the continuous dust monitor will begin with a limited, 30 day assessment of the ruggedness and stability of the units underground. This will be followed by eight weeks of intensive testing of the continuous dust monitor.

Preliminary testing of the continuous dust monitor is slated for a James River Coal Company mine in eastern Kentucky and another mine at a Consolidation Coal Company mine in northern West Virginia.

"The participating companies deserve credit for their willingness to take part in testing a device that could help wipe out black lung disease," McAteer said. "The complete testing process is expected to involve about a half dozen mines."

The continuous dust monitor uses a sensor connected by a cable to an explosion-proof enclosure containing the device's power supply and electronics. The device can be mounted on a mining machine or, in longwall mines, located along the face. A display continuously shows the respirable dust concentrations of the mine atmosphere where the continuous dust monitor is located and projects full shift exposures, allowing mine operators to adjust control measures to prevent miners from being overexposed.

McAteer continued, "We need to be in a position to be able to know the level of dust on a continuous basis--so that the miner and the mine operator can take immediate steps to correct the problem." But McAteer cautioned, "This is not the complete answer, but a very important step."

The ability to make more timely adjustments to dust control parameters will help reduce miners' overall exposure to coal mine dust, reducing the incidence of black lung disease. Black lung disease, caused by overexposure to respirable coal mine dust over a long period of time, can impair lung function and even lead to heart failure. Black lung can progress even after the miner is no longer exposed to coal mine dust.

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