Test results show coal dust rules working, agency says |
Local Stories

Test results show coal dust rules working, agency says

Guy Wathen | Trib Total Media
FILE: U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez, left, and Assistant Secretary of Labor for Mine Safety and Health Joseph A. Main speak to the media following a visit to Alpha Natural Resources' Cumberland Mine in Waynesburg on Monday, Dec. 1, 2014.

Tougher federal limits on coal dust that are set to become stricter next month appear to be helping clear the air for miners working underground, regulators said Monday.

A review of about 20,000 air samples collected with equipment required by new rules from the Mine Safety and Health Administration shows 99 percent were in compliance with dust limits, and 98 percent would meet a more stringent standard set to take effect Aug. 1 as part of a third phase of the rules, the agency announced.

“It’s continued good news on implementation of the rule, in terms of both compliance and the ability of the industry to comply, and the benefit miners are getting from this to really prevent black lung disease,” MSHA administrator Joseph Main, an assistant labor secretary, told the Tribune-Review. “For those who believe this rule is not achievable, the results of the numbers tell otherwise.”

The agency in 2014 issued controversial rules targeting dust in mines in an effort to limit new cases of black lung disease, a name given to a group of potentially fatal breathing ailments linked to coal mining. Industry groups challenged the rules in court, saying they would be impossible to implement and would not protect workers.

“The truth is, miners are still getting this disease because we have not been controlling dust,” Main said, noting there have been 500 new cases reported since 2010.

The first phase of the dust rules standardized the air sampling that coal companies must conduct, and a second phase that took effect Feb. 1 increased the frequency of those tests while requiring miners to carry new personal, tamper-proof monitors.

The air samples reviewed by MSHA were collected between April 1 and June 30 from those monitors, which provide real-time results.

“This is a state-of-the-art, game-changing tool that, instead of waiting days or weeks to get results back from a lab, the miners now know in real-time, as does the mine operator, so they can fix the dust problems during the shift,” Main said about the monitors.

The third phase, which takes effect next month, lowers the legal limit for dust in the air by 25 percent to 1.5 milligrams per cubic meter.

Critics, including Ohio-based coal producer Murray Energy Corp., challenged the rules in court, arguing MSHA was overreaching its authority and that the lower limit would not improve the health of miners.

When the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the rules in January, Murray said the regulations were “technologically infeasible, and will destroy thousands of coal-mining jobs.” Murray decided not to appeal the ruling to the Supreme Court and did not provide further comment on MSHA’s air test results.

The National Mining Association also challenged the rules. Spokesman Luke Popovich said the industry group is pleased by the test results.

“The results are gratifying and a testament to the combined efforts of operators and regulators, as MSHA acknowledges,” he said. “That said, we still have concerns with MSHA’s new personal dust monitors and how operationally effective they will be since they’ve only been in use for about five months.”

The MSHA test findings mirror an analysis of previous samples done by the United Mine Workers of America when the first part of the rules took effect, union spokesman Phil Smith said.

“This demonstrates that it’s not difficult for responsible operators to comply with this rule,” he said.

David Conti is the assistant business editor at the Tribune-Review. Reach him at 412-388-5802 or [email protected].

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.