MSHA silica dust rule takes effect

Source: TimesNews

June 17, 2024


LOUISVILLE, Kentucky– Monday marked the start of tighter silica dust exposure limits for miners across the U.S.

Assistant Secretary for Mine Safety and Health Administration Christopher Williamson joined a roundtable meeting with Kentucky Congressman Morgan McGarvey, D-3rd, federal mine health experts and activists from Kentucky and Southwest Virginia to announce the first day of the rule’s implementation.

The rule applies to all metal and non-metal mining operations in the U.S.

The U.S. Department of Labor finalized the rule in April in response to several years of miner health data that showed rising incidences of black lung disease and silicosis among miners in their 30s and 40s.

“Mine safety rules are written in blood,” McGarvey said at the start of Monday’s meeting. “Miners have worked in dangerous conditions, and they’ve done it to power America.”

Williamson said the rule cuts allowable eight-hour shift exposure to silica from 100 micrograms to 50 micrograms while placing increased responsibility on mine operators to ensure compliance with the new standards.

“The expectation is that miners should have a safe work environment,” said Williamson. “This rule has been a long time coming.”

Data gathered from black lung clinics in the central Appalachian region has shown that black lung incidences among miners had been on a decline since passage of the federal Coal Act in the 1970s and increased safety standards.

As coal seams became harder to reach and required cutting through increasing amounts of rock, miners’ exposure to the resulting silica dust meant growing incidences of lung damage in miners at younger ages.

Respiratory specialist Dr. Brandon Crum told meeting participants that silica – more damaging to lung tissue that coal dust – also is a known carcinogen in addition to accumulating in miners’ lungs.


“We’ve seen a 400% increase in lung transplants across (U.S.) miners,” said Crum, adding that even lung transplants may offer only about five years of life to miners receiving transplants.

“It’s a dismal prognosis, said Crum. “There’s no cure for black lung. We can treat is symptomatically, but the disease will continue to progress after they leave the mines.”

Nickelsville resident and retired miner John Robinson said he developed silica exposure from two years of cutting 3,000 feet into a rock slope at one operation before the company reached its first coal seam.

“There’s so much rock in it,” said Robinson, “and that’s what’s killing us.”

Robinson’s wife, National Black Lung Association Vice President Vonda Robinson, credited McGarvey, Williamson, Virginia U.S. Senators Mark Warner and Tim Kaine for their cooperation with other Congressional leaders in advocating for the new dust rule.

“Miners sacrifice their whole body and lungs, said Vonda Robinson. “We need now to help get more money to enforce the rule.”

Dr. Scott Laney of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health said the higher silica concentrations in miners’ lungs were not seen in the 1960s and 1970s.

“If you live in the central Appalachian region, you don’t need a government epidemiologist to tell you something’s been wrong for the last 20 years,” said Laney. “Black lung is as bad as it’s ever been.”

While MSHA will be increasing enforcement efforts under the new dust rule, Williamson said miners will be key in helping the agency know about violations.

“But (miners) need to know that they have an agency that’s got their back,” Williamson added. “There’s a generation of miners that have exchanged their health to provide for their families, and we should not accept that as a cost of doing business. The rule is effective today, but there’s a lot of work to do.”

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