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MSHA News Release No. 99-1122
Mine Safety and Health Administration - USDOL
Contact: Rodney Brown
Phone: 703-235-1452

Released Monday, November 22, 1999

Free Tests are Another Step Toward Ending Black Lung
Kentucky Coal Miners to Get Free, Confidential Chest X-rays Under New MSHA Plan

All Kentucky coal miners will now be offered free, confidential chest X-rays to detect work-related lung diseases courtesy of a new pilot program announced today by the Department of Labor's Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA). The pilot program, the "Miners' Choice Health Screening," is designed to ensure confidentiality, a concern which may have kept participation levels in the previous chest X-ray program low. The new program may replace an existing program which has suffered because of low participation. Nationally, MSHA will annually designate about 20 percent of the approximately 100,000 active coal miners outside of Kentucky for participation in the new program.

MSHA inspectors will give Kentucky miners the name and location of all designated X-ray facilities. Miners will be able to take the free chest X-rays at any of the participating facilities, regardless of location. Mobile X-ray units may be used in some areas. Tested miners will be provided results within 45 to 90 days.

Mine operators will not have access to any results of the chest X-rays on any miners. However, the industry has expressed support for the program. McAteer added, "A number of mine operators will allow miners time during work hours to take the X-rays and will allow the mobile X-ray units on their property."

MSHA moved to implement the pilot program primarily in response to a 1996 federal advisory committee chartered to make recommendations for eliminating black lung disease among mine workers. The committee recommended that, like underground miners, surface miners should be checked for occurrences of work-related respiratory diseases.

Under the pilot program, all X-rays taken will be sent to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). NIOSH will then notify each tested miner, in writing, of individual X-ray findings. MSHA will not receive individual results but only statistical information, and will inform the coal mining industry, miners' representatives, and other interested parties of statistical data obtained through the pilot program. This information will not include any personal data on any individual miner.

McAteer continued, "Once we can accurately determine the depth and scope of respiratory problems such as black lung and silicosis among working miners, MSHA, as well as industry and labor, can better direct and concentrate resources at the sources of this health hazard and eliminate them."

Since 1994, MSHA has been engaged in a multifaceted effort to end black lung disease and silicosis among U.S. mineworkers. Among these actions were the appointment of the advisory committee to study elimination of black lung disease; the development of a "black box," that would give continuous readouts of respiratory dust levels in the mine environment; the establishment of a toll-free dust fraud hotline for miners to report excessive levels of respirable dust in their workplace; and an effort to shift to a single-sample system of measuring dust levels for enforcement purposes.


Note to Editors: To obtain a complete listing of all participating medical facilities please phone the contact listed on the front of this News Release.