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MSHA News Release No. 2000-0706
Mine Safety and Health Administration
Contact: Rodney Brown
Phone: (703) 235-1452 

 Released Thursday, July 6, 2000

"Cornerstone" of Changes Designed to End Black Lung

  The U.S. Department of Labor's Mine Safety and Health Administration is proposing to change the system for sampling, detecting and controlling dust in coal mines and will hold three public hearings in August to receive comments on the proposal.

  In the first comprehensive change in 30 years, the agency proposes to take over all sampling in underground coal mines to check for compliance with dust limits set to prevent lung disease. Mine operators have performed most of this sampling for the past 30 years.

  "Under our proposals, federal mine inspectors would do all the sampling to find out if underground coal miners are overexposed to respirable dust that can cause black lung and silicosis," said Davitt McAteer, assistant secretary of labor for mine safety and health. "Consistent with this decision, the agency would also rely only on MSHA inspector samples as the basis for setting the applicable dust standard when quartz is present. These changes will restore miners' confidence in the sampling program."

  Second, the agency would verify the effectiveness of the operator's dust control measures specified in the mine ventilation plan under more typical production levels before these plans are approved. Currently each underground coal mine operator must have an MSHA-approved ventilation plan but its effectiveness in controlling respirable dust is not verified prior to approval. Samples must reflect the quality of the air that the miners are breathing.

  Miners' representatives would have the right to observe the sampling for plan verification as well as compliance sampling by MSHA inspectors.

  Third, these proposals would also allow MSHA inspectors to issue citations for non-compliance when a full-shift sample demonstrates, at a high level of confidence, that the applicable standard has been exceeded on an individual shift. Currently, MSHA averages the dust concentration obtained from several full-shift samples (eight hours or less in duration) to determine noncompliance, a procedure that can mask significant single-shift overexposures by diluting a measurement of high dust exposure with one of lower dust concentration. "This change in MSHA enforcement strategy will allow for more rapid detection of excessive dust conditions and response to improve the quality of the mine air to which miners are exposed," McAteer said.

  MSHA and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health in the Department of Health and Human Services have determined that a single, full-shift sample, the standard practice in other industrial sampling programs, provides an accurate measurement of the average dust concentration to which miners are exposed during that shift.

  Fourth, the proposals also would allow interim use of loose-fitting, powered air-purifying respirators (Airstream helmets) and administrative controls, such as worker rotation, to supplement engineering controls in some longwall operations where all feasible engineering controls are not enough to achieve compliance. Longwall mining has generally posed the greatest challenge of all types of coal mining in the control of respirable coal mine dust.

  The agency also is requesting comments on the possible future use of personal continuous dust exposure monitoring as an alternative to plan verification, as well as any information which may be available concerning developing exposure assessment technology.

  "Together the changes we are proposing would act as the cornerstone of a restructured system to prevent black lung and silicosis," said McAteer. "When we are able to set these changes in place, coal miners can have greater confidence in the system to monitor -- and most importantly, control -- dust that can harm their health."

  The proposals adopt recommendations by the Advisory Committee on the Elimination of Pneumoconiosis Among Coal Mine Workers, which held several public hearings and reviewed extensive scientific information.

  McAteer also said, "Through our revised sampling program we would determine the effectiveness of the dust control parameters in ventilation plans over the actual length of the production shift, whether it is eight hours, 10 hours, 12 hours or longer."

  Black lung and silicosis are irreversible, disabling and often fatal lung diseases. In 1998, mine operators reported 238 new cases of black lung and silicosis among coal miners. Some X-ray surveillance programs in the 1990's detected signs of black lung in more than 9 percent of participating underground coal mines and more than 4 percent of participating surface coal miners. MSHA is now offering a pilot program of free, confidential chest X-rays to determine the rate of black lung disease across the entire industry.

  "Too many coal miners are still getting black lung," McAteer said. "We have the knowledge to end this disease, and these proposals will help to make that possible."

  MSHA is asking the mining community for comments on the respirable dust proposals. The deadline for written comments is Aug. 24. Comments may be mailed to MSHA, Office of Standards, Regulations and Variances, 4015 Wilson Blvd., Arlington, VA 22203. Interested parties may also e-mail comments to "" or fax comments to 703-235-5551. Please identify which proposed rule the comments address.

  Public hearings will be held from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Aug. 7 at the Holiday Inn, 1400 Saratoga Ave., Morgantown, W.Va.; on Aug. 10 at the Holiday Inn, 1887 N. US 23, Prestonsburg, Ky., and on Aug. 16 at the Hilton Salt Lake City Center, 255 S. West Temple, Salt Lake City, Utah.

  McAteer said that after thoroughly considering all comments from the public, MSHA will work towards issuing the rules in final form by the end of the year.

  Under the proposals, MSHA would lift the current requirement for underground coal mine operators to take respirable dust samples. Cases of sampling fraud and too many samples with unreasonably low amounts of respirable coal mine dust have eroded confidence in the operator sampling program in recent years.

  MSHA stepped up its inspector sampling to six times at year at all underground coal mines starting April 1, McAteer said.

  The agency plans to address advisory committee recommendations concerning surface coal mine workers in a separate proposal now in preparation.

  MSHA's respirable dust standard requires that coal miners' exposure to respirable coal mine dust be kept at or below an average of 2.0 mg per cubic meter during each shift. The proposals do not change that exposure limit.

  The proposed rules on respirable coal mine dust are scheduled to appear in the Federal Register on Friday. The proposals also may be found on MSHA's Web site at, under Statutory and Regulatory Information, Federal Register Documents, Proposed Rules.