The rule will add spirometry testing, occupational history, and symptom assessment to the chest x-ray exam now required for underground coal miners and will extend medical surveillance to surface coal miners.

MSHA Rule to Lower Coal Dust Exposures

Part of the agency's "End Black Lung -- Act Now" campaign, the rule being published Oct. 19 will halve the concentration limit for respirable coal dust in underground mines to 1.0 mg/m3 over the next two years and also will phase in required use of continuous personal dust monitors.

The next big step in MSHA's "End Black Lung -- Act Now" campaign will be published Oct. 19, the agency announced Thursday. Its fact sheet and explanation of the new proposed rule says it will halve the concentration limit for respirable coal dust in underground and surface mines to 1.0 mg/m3 over the next two years and also will phase in required use of continuous personal dust monitors. The limit for intake air at underground mines and for miners who show evidence of developing pneumoconiosis will be halved, as well, to 0.5 mg/m3 six months after the final rule's effective date.

In addition, the rule will require respirable dust sampling for the full shift a miner works rather than a maximum of eight hours, which is important because underground miners frequently work shifts longer than eight hours. Single, full-shift sampled collected by MSHA or the mine operator will be used to determine compliance, rather than averaging multiple dust samples of different miners' exposures as is down now.

It will add spirometry testing, occupational history, and symptom assessment to the chest x-ray exam now required for underground coal miners and will extend medical surveillance to surface coal miners.

MSHA predicts the rule will bring significant reductions in black lung cases, severe emphysema, and deaths from non-malignant respiratory disease.

The rule would implement recommendations in a 1995 NIOSH report and a 1996 secretary of Labor's dust advisory report. "This proposed regulatory action fulfills a longstanding commitment and promise that I made on my first day with MSHA, and one to which I have been dedicated most of my working life," said Joseph Main, assistant secretary of labor for mine safety and health. "It would bring us many steps closer to overhauling an outdated program that has failed to adequately protect miners from breathing unhealthy levels of coal mine dust and achieving the intent of Congress to eliminate black lung disease."

"In America in the 21st Century, workers should not have to risk illness or death in order to provide for their families, yet more than 10,000 miners with black lung disease have died in the last decade alone. This rule will provide today's miners with long-overdue protections against needless threats to their health," said Vice President Joseph Biden.

"We work very hard to care for those who suffer from this debilitating, disabling, and often fatal disease, knowing full well that it is 100 percent preventable. This disease should not exist in this 21st Century and [we] are therefore strongly in support of the new initiative that MSHA has begun to 'End Black Lung Now.' We support MSHA's plans to strengthen and redesign the rules for respirable coal mine dust in our nation's mines," said Dr. Robert Cohen, medical director of the National Coalition of Black Lung and Respiratory Disease Clinics.

According to the fact sheet, the 17,693 samples of miners' coal dust exposures submitted to MSHA by mine operators this year through Aug. 31 averaged 0.73 mg/m3. The average for surface miners was 0.46 mg/m3. The average for 2,804 samples of intake air this year was 0.14 mg/m3.

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