Coal Tattoo

Labor Secretary Hilda Solis and MSHA chief Joe Main a little while ago wrapped up a brief conference call with the media, in which they formally announced their new rulemaking that is part of the Obama administration’s “End Black Lung” campaign.

Here are the highlights of  the proposed rule:

— Phasing in, over a two-year period, a tightening of the legal limit for coal dust from 2.0 milligrams per cubic meter to 1.0 milligrams per cubic meter.

— Require the use of continuous personal dust monitors to measure miners’ exposure in a more timely and accurate manner.

— Provide for full-shift sampling — rather than averaging samples from multiple shifts, which can underestimate actual numbers — to more accurately measure miners’ exposure.

— Redefine work shifts for compliance purposes to more accurately reflect that miners simply don’t always work eight-hour shifts anymore.

In today’s news release, MSHA noted:

Based on recent data from NIOSH, cases of black lung are increasing among the nation’s coal miners. Even younger miners are showing evidence of advanced and debilitating lung disease from excessive dust exposure. Over the past decade, more than 10,000 miners have died from black lung. The federal government has paid out more than $44 billion in compensation for miners totally disabled by black lung since 1970, according to the Labor Department’s Office of Workers’ Compensation Programs.

MSHA based its proposal at least in part on a major recommendation made in 1995 by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health and on a 1996 report by a Labor Department Advisory Committee commissioned by the Clinton Administration.

Passage of the 1969 coal-mine safety law helped greatly reduce black lung disease, but public health and worker advocates have been concerned for sometime about a resurgence of the disease, especially among younger miners who have only worked under the current, 2.0 milligram per cubic meter dust rule — which was supposed to eliminate black lung.

Secretary Solis said:

Protecting miners’ health is a priority of the Department of Labor. This proposed rule takes concrete steps to end the terrible disease of black lung and will improve miners’ lives.

And during today’s conference call, Joe Main said:

If you look at the current status of the disease in this country, we are finding an increase in the miners in this country that are getting the disease. If you look at some of the population breakouts of those miners, we’re finding younger miners getting this disease. We’re finding miners getting the disease who only worked under this regulation.

At the end of the day, the only logical conclusion you can make is that we need to change the regulations to protect these miners. I hope the miners and the mining community embrace this approach. It is the right thing to do. It is aimed at eliminating the disease that has afflicted and plagued the mining industry for far too long.

I’ve posted here the complete audio of today’s conference call .