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MSHA News Release No. 99-1130
Mine Safety and Health Administration - USDOL
Contact: Rodney Brown
Phone: 703-235-1452

Released Tuesday, November 30, 1999

Free Chest X-rays are Another Step Toward Ending Black Lung
U.S. Coal Miners to Get Free Chest X-rays Under MSHA Plan to Count Black Lung Cases

Many U.S. 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," will initially offer free chest X-rays to about 20 percent of U.S. coal miners. The program 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. The new pilot program will operate independently of the current program. Each year MSHA will designate about 20 percent of the approximately 100,000 active coal miners in the nation for participation in the pilot program.

Eligible participants this fiscal year would be coal miners working at operations whose mine identification numbers end with the digit 0 or 1. MSHA will notify each miner working at a selected mine of his or her eligibility for a free chest X-ray under the new pilot program. The agency will pay the participating X-ray facilities around the nation for all X-rays taken of eligible coal mine workers during the test period. Seventy facilities around the nation are participating.

MSHA inspectors will give miners the name and location of all designated X-ray facilities nationwide and miners will be able to take the free chest X-rays at any of the participating facilities, regardless of location. Mobile X-ray units will 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 or a list of mines designated for inclusion in this program, please phone the contact listed on the front of this News Release.