Labor Secretary Hilda Solis and MSHA asst. secretary Joe Main are proposing new rules to protect U.S. coal mine workers from developing illnesses related to exposure to respirable coal mine dust. The most commonly known adverse health effect is black lung disease, but exposure is also associated with excess risk of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, progressive massive fibrosis, chronic bronchitis, and emphysema. The proposal, scheduled to be published in the Federal Register on Oct 19,* takes a comprehensive approach to the problem. I’ve not had a chance to read carefully the entire lengthy document, but I see provisions to reduce the permissible exposure limit for respirable coal dust from 2.0 mg/m3 to 1.0 mg/m3 (phased-in over 2 years), change the way miners’ exposure to coal dust is measured from an average over five shifts to a single, full-shift sample (consistent with standard industrial hygiene practice) and monitor of coal dust levels based on typical production levels in the mine. During the Clinton and the GW Bush Administration, MSHA proposed rules addressing these same problems, but they were never issued as a final rules. I’m hopeful this third time will be the charm.
In August 2010, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) requested public comment on a compilation of the best available scientific information on adverse health effects from exposure to respirable coal dust. The document is a follow-up to NIOSH’s 300+ page Criteria Document published in September 1995 which recommended that MSHA adopt an exposure limit of 1 mg/m3 for a 10-hour shift. In the draft NIOSH update, the agency reaffirms its conclusions from 15 years earlier:
**Exposure to coal mine dust causes various pulmonary diseases, including coal workers’ pneumoconiosis and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
**These lung diseases can bring about impairment, disability and premature death.
See the faces and hear the voices of U.S. miners who have severe respiratory diseases because of their work in these video clips produced by the Louisville Courier-Journal.
*Note: the document is available on-line today at the Federal Register “public inspection desk” site.