The Mine Safety and Health Administration will host a public meeting Thursday as it considers action on regulating respirable silica, one of the major contributors to Appalachia’s skyrocketing rates of black lung disease.
MSHA issued a request for information in response to calls for increased regulation after a 2018 investigation from NPR and PBS Frontline. That investigation found that the agency had failed to adequately protect miners despite knowing that silica, or quartz dust, was contributing to an epidemic of black lung. Silica dust is produced from cutting into layers of rock surrounding coal seams. At least 10 percent of coal miners with 25 or more years of underground work experience suffer from the disease, a sharp increase from the 1990s.
A 2014 rule strengthened controls on mine dust overall, but did not address silica specifically. The agency’s meeting and request might signal interest in further regulation. However, some critics say it is too little, too late. Former MSHA regulator Celeste Monforton has spoken out against MSHA’s lack of action on silica exposure and said she sees little progress now.