In the wake of an NPR and Frontline investigation into the surge in black lung disease, a coalition of black lung clinics is calling for action from federal regulators. The government’s top mine safety official says he has no plans to change rules on dust exposure.
The National Coalition of Black Lung Clinics said in a statement that the federal government has more than enough data on the risks of current mining practices to justify implementing new measures.
Specifically, the Coalition wants better control of the dust generated when miners cut into rock containing silica and quartz. That silica dust is highly toxic. As NPR’s investigation shows, health advisors urged tighter controls on that dust decades ago.
Coalition member Debbie Wills of Cedar Grove, West Virginia, said it’s time for the Mine Safety and Health Administration, or MSHA, to act.
“We would like MSHA to have a silica standard and testing to ensure that the standard is really being met.,” she said.
But in a recent call with mining industry stakeholders MSHA director David Zatezalo defended the current regulations.
“What we are doing is what MSHA is supposed to do, enforcing the law,” he said.
Zatezalo says changes made during the Obama administration strengthened dust standards and introduced new monitoring technology.
“That has lowered miners exposures and we have proof of that.”
Zatezalo said the number of dust samples showing high levels have dropped.
However, the new devices do not specifically monitor for dust from quartz. And Wills is concerned that miners will continue to be exposed to unsafe levels.
“I don’t think that’s going to change severity of the disease.”
Wills and the clinic coalition are not alone in that concern. A June report from the National Academy of Sciences called for a “fundamental shift” in the way the mining industry controls dust exposure in order to prevent lung disease among miners.