Industry pans Obama plan to end black lung

December 7, 2010 by Ken Ward Jr.

Today is the first public hearing on the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration’s proposal to tighten the legal limit on coal dust as part of the Obama administration’s plan to end black lung disease.

Here’s the early report from the AP, whose Tim Huber attended the hearing held at the MSHA Academy outside Beckley:

The West Virginia Coal Association wants federal regulators to rewrite proposed regulations that would place stricter limits on coal dust exposure.

Lobbyist Chris Hamilton told a regulatory panel Tuesday the changes would cost far more than expected and are based on unproven science, among other things.

Others addressing the Mine Safety and Health Administration panel urged adoption of the changes as a step toward eradicating black lung disease, which is caused by inhaling dust.

The hearing at MSHA’s mine academy in Beaver is the first of seven planned across the country.

The proposal would cut by half existing limits for breathable dust in coal mines, among other things. The disease has plagued miners for generations and is blamed for more than 10,000 deaths in the past decade.

Recall that government agencies and advisory panels have been advocating a tighter dust standard for years, the MSHA proposal has the “full support” of the United Mine Workers union, and has been widely praised by worker health advocates and black lung experts.

9 Responses to “Industry pans Obama plan to end black lung”

  1. bo webb says:

    I have to ask; and Chris please answer this one question.
    Have you ever supported any proposal designed to protect the health of a coal miner or a citizen that lives beneath these mountaintop bombing sites?

    And Ken, please spare me for calling mtr mountaintop bombing. If Hamilton can get away with calling it mountaintop development, I am certainly speaking far greater truth by referring to it as “mountaintop bombing”. I don’t know what other name could be more appropriate for the daily detonation of nearly 6 million pounds of diesel fuel, ammonium nitrate explosives (the Timothy McVeigh bomb) directly above Central Appalachia Mountain Communities of E. KY and S. WV. These strip miners should be wearing protective breathing devises as well as the victimized citizens below.

  2. Common Sense says:

    Mr. Webb,

    “Mountaintop Bombing?” Really? First, I think you totally missed the point of the article. Black Lung appears mostly in “underground” miners. The underground miners use a piece of machinery called a continuous miner to cut the coal instead of using explosives. This is how majority of coal dust is formed in underground mines.

    Second, I see how you keep up with the Coal Tattoo and read the variety of articles that appear on this site, but to mention the Oklahoma City bombing to coal mining? So, if one would follow your train of thought, would you be referring to the miners that work at one of these surface operations a Timothy McVeigh type of people?

    I see you are apparently concerned for the health of miners as we all are, but lets compare apples to apples next time ok.

    Common Sense

  3. Ken Ward Jr. says:

    Common Sense,

    I believe that Bo’s referring to a calculation about mountaintop removal that was part of Penny Loeb’s 1997 report in Newsweek, in which she reported:

    “West Virginia’s coal lies in horizontal seams between the rock, not unlike the fudge of a many-layered cake. To extract it, a mountain’s rock has to be split with dynamite. Blasts are made with the same mixture of ammonium nitrate fertilizer and fuel oil used in the bomb that killed 168 people in Oklahoma City two years ago, but the mining explosions are 10 to 100 times stronger. Most of the time they do not exceed legal limits, which are supposed to prevent damaging vibrations at the house nearest the mine. Experts say the limits are outdated because they do not take account of geological differences that can make some houses susceptible to blast damage while similar houses nearby are unaffected.”

    So let’s all not go off onto some tangent about whether Bo was comparing miners to Timothy McVeigh … that’s just not the sort of discussions we’re going to allow here on Coal Tattoo. It is beside the point and all it serves to do is divide people and result in a lot of name-calling and finger pointing. So everybody let it go, OK?

    It’s also obvious to most readers, I think, that Bo was commenting on a couple of different Coal Tattoo posts, including the recent one headlined, “Mountain development?”

    On the one hand, you have Chris Hamilton advocating re-branding of mountaintop removal and on the other hand, you have him opposing tougher limits on coal dust that causes black lung.

    It’s also important to understand that lung disease is absolutely not confined to workers at underground mines. The Courier-Journal’s great series on black lung disease included this story: that reported:

    “The most dangerous job in coal mining may not be underground.
    “Miners who spend at least 20 years as strip-mine drillers have a 61 percent chance of contracting silicosis, a virulent form of black lung. No other job in coal mining has such a high risk.
    “That number is based on a government-sponsored study of surface miners in western Pennsylvania’s bituminous coalfields. The study is supported by other recent surveys of surface miners, and the startling results have researchers and government officials worried.”
    “The disease rates we found among drillers were simply unacceptable,” said Joe Cocalis, an industrial hygeinist with the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). “We’ve got a damn epidemic on our hands that is 100 percent preventable.”

    And of course, Bo is rightly concerned about the potential health effects of residents who live near coal-mining operations, a concern that is given much weight by the scientific papers published by WVU’s Michael Hendryx,

    All of that aside, let’s not let Bo’s mention of “mountaintop bombing” and Timothy McVeigh prompt this discussion to get off topic or out of hand, folks.


  4. walnutcove says:

    I am a little slow getting into the picture here and I do apologize for that. I suppose I too have missed the point of these new coal dust proposals. I was under the impression that what was being introduced was directly related to underground mining. Are there new proposals related to surface mining as well?
    I would be curios to know just what is being proposed involving coal dust exposure.

  5. Bo Webb says:

    Common Sense, I understand and know good well that black lung is associated with underground coal miners. I have had a few family members die from it so yes, I do know that.
    Can you follow this? It seems common sense to me. I am not referring to the worker on an mtr site when referring to Timothy McVeigh. The worker does not make the decision for choice of explosive, but yet they are forced to be exposed to the explosive dust fall out and whatever may be in it that enters their lungs, just as does the citizen that lives beneath and near these mtr operations. So, why are you trying to shift the subject to make it appear that I am comparing a strip miner to McVeigh? Obviously, if I was doing that I wouldn’t want to tell him he should be wearing a protective breathing devise.
    I hope you will respond. I think we could have some meaningful dialogue. Maybe not good for you, but good for the greater population.

  6. Ken Ward Jr. says:


    If you read the MSHA proposal, you’ll see that it proposes to tighten the dust limit for surface mines as well … and in fact, MSHA has found that a statistically significant number of surface mines currently violate that proposed tougher limit.

    It would also make a change to add surface mine workers to the current medical monitoring programs that are meant to monitor exposure and incidence of black lung.


  7. Jack__4 says:

    Common, yes coal dust is created by a continueous miner, but if the sprays are working correctly and the venilation curtain is installed correctly, most of the coal and rock dust is deluted and/or directed into the return entry.
    Most of the coal is dumped into a feeder by a shuttle car or directly onto a conveyor belt from a shearer.
    Coal is transfered from conveyor belt to conveyor belt by conveyor belt drives.
    Each transfer point, continueous miner, shuttle car, feeder, belt drive points causes dust to be suspended in the neutral entry.
    As a general laborer and a belt man, I can assure you that shoveling spilt coal and float dust on a belt line is the worst place to be in a undergroung coal mine relevative to breathing coal dust.
    Suspended float (fine coal dust) dust is what makes the big boom when ignited by a methane explosion.

  8. Common Sense says:

    Thank you for your comment and your hard work that you complete on a daily basis. I agree with you that if water sprays and ventilation plans approved by MSHA are followed that majority of the rock dust/coal dust will be diluted. Also, I agree, when you are in the given range of 5-15% methane within an underground mine and there is a mixture of coal dust, a deadly explosion can occur.

    (And I will stay with your points that you made in your return comment. I apologize for straying from your original topic, but certain comments have to be addressed I feel.) I would like to address Ms. Loeb’s article from 1997. That article I must say has its share of dramatic points and I would like to also point out that was 13 years ago and a lot of progress has been made during those years in relation to seismograph technology and different studies by different universities. Not one time did I see in her article mention of houses settling or bad carpenter work? I have owned a few houses over the past few years and I have noticed cracks, some foundation cracks, etc. I lived no where near a surface operation or in fact an underground operation. Should I try to find someone to blame for my house naturally settling? Reclamation is another point I would like to address, but not this time.

    Next, you bring up Silicosis in relation to black lung. Yes, silicosis can develop on a surface operation for operators exposed to silica dust over an extended period of time. You quote a sentence from NIOSH that says, “Miners who spend at least 20 years as strip-mine drillers have a 61 percent chance of contacting silicosis, a virulent form of black lung.” Drillers over the past 20 years have seen great improvements in drill cabs, filters, etc. Of course you will see studies of miners that have operated drills on not only surface coal operations, but road construction, quarries, and open pit mines around the world because of the older equipment and lack of knowledge about silicosis in the past 20 years. This would be like comparing vehicles from 20 years ago to vehicles of today. I think we will all agree that they are much safer now than 20 years ago.

    Third, you brought up a “scientific” paper published by a WVU professor. I applaud his efforts in looking at the data he did and trying to put together an argument for the benefits of coal in the Appalachian region compared to non-mining regions. I have read through his paper before and I have just refreshed myself by reading it again. I think in this “scientific” paper we are not taking into account the effects of drugs, healthcare, and more important; the regions ability to accept new industry besides coal mining. All of these along with other factors weigh heavily upon mortality rates in Southern West Virginia.

    In conclusion, I want to say that I want safe working conditions for miners, construction workers, etc. I think all of want to go to work, put in a full day, and return home safe and sound. To argue that is just ludicrous! But I ask you Ken, what could Southern West Virginia do (and yes, I understand this touches upon a broader media outside of black lung) to improve the economy, decrease the mortality rate, increase education, and create a better life for the citizens and create A Better West Virginia?

  9. Bruce Lawrence says:

    Hi all I know its 4 years down the track and I hope that the standards and health of miners in the US have improved I know one of our
    dust inspecters when over there and at a conference in Washington explained to ceos of some of the biggest mining companies that black lung has been totally eradicated in Australia and was met with disbelief on there part that it was possible I dont know if this was driven buy there lack of commitment to do this over there I hope not as I am also an under ground miner I find it disturbing to say the least that this completely preventable condition still exist s in you industry

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