For Immediate Release: July 8, 2021
Rebecca Shelton, firstname.lastname@example.org, 859-893-0543
Trey Pollard, email@example.com, 202-904-9187
WIth Decades of Inaction Leading to Miner Deaths, Appalachian Citizens’ Law Center again urges MSHA to reduce silica dust in coal mines
WHITESBURG, KY — Today, Appalachian Citizens’ Law Center, Inc (ACLC) submitted a petition to the Biden Administration’s Mine Safety and Health Administration urging the agency to create a rule to protect coal miners from exposure to respirable silica — the second time that ACLC has urged the creation of this life-saving protection. Over a decade ago, ACLC petitioned MSHA to establish a dust standard for respirable crystalline silica. While MSHA responded and stated an intention to publish a proposed standard by April 2011, the rule was never promulgated and a decade of inaction followed. As a result, the silica standard for coal miners has not been updated since 1985, as countless miners have become sick and died as a result of black lung disease.
Black Lung disease is an irreversible and progressive lung disease caused by the inhalation, deposition and retention of respirable coal mine dust particles and there is increasing evidence that exposure to silica dust is driving this resurgence, particularly in regard to the most severe form of the disease. The Mine Act under which MSHA operates requires the agency to regulate dust so that “no miner will suffer material impairment of health or functional capacity,” even if that miner were to spend his/her entire working life in the mines. Yet over the last decade, an epidemic of black lung disease has emerged in Central Appalachia. Incidence of disease is occurring at an unprecedented rate. In Central Appalachia,1 in 5 tenured miners has black lung disease and 1 in 20 have the most severe and totally disabling form of the disease – Progressive Massive Fibrosis.
Wes Addington, Director of ACLC, says that MSHA’s failure to create a standard years ago has cost many miners their health and their quality of life. “Before 2010, we rarely encountered miners diagnosed with complicated coal workers’ pneumoconiosis or progressive massive fibrosis. Since that time, scores of miners have come through our doors with very severe disease. They are younger and sicker than ever before and have been robbed of the life they hoped would follow their careers in the coal mines. A silica standard is long, long overdue,” said Wes Addington.
There is no doubt that exposure to silica dust is a causal factor in this occupational epidemic. Over the last twenty-five years, health experts and government bodies have developed and rigorously reviewed scientific evidence and repeatedly concluded that MSHA’s silica standard is egregiously inadequate. In 2016 the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) established a reduced silica standard, making it such that our nation provides miners less protection than any other group of workers.
Vice President of the Black Lung Association of Southeastern Kentucky, Jay McCool, says of silica dust, “It’s killing people, that’s what is wrong with the miners today, they work their lives in the mines and ten years later they’re dead. They need to fix it and make mines compliant. The miners are getting silica in their lungs, and they need to find a better way to control it and monitor it.”
The failure to protect and take care of miners spans multiple administrations and Congressional sessions. Past administrations have failed to promulgate a silica rule to prevent the disease and Congress has failed to pass legislation that will ensure the continued solvency of the black lung disability trust fund – the fund that which receives revenues from a small excise tax on coal pays for benefits to coal miners and their surviving dependents in cases where the miners’ previous employer cannot be held responsible. The consequence of inaction is costing miners their lives.
To read our full petition, click below:
UPDATE (August 12, 2021): Click below to see MSHA’s response to our petition