The second phase of MSHA’s landmark respirable coal mine dust rule went into effect yesterday, adding increased safeguards for coal miners to further protect them from overexposure to unhealthy levels of respirable coal mine dust.
Coal mine operators will now be required to collect an increased number of respirable dust samples to prevent overexposure to the unhealthy coal mine dust that causes coal miners’ pneumoconiosis, or black lung. In underground coal mines for high exposure occupations, 15 valid samples must be obtained every quarter, followed by 15 samples for other types of occupations. This sampling regimen replaces the previous requirement of five samples every two months.
For the first time, underground operators will be required to use the cutting-edge Continuous Personal Dust Monitor (CPDM) that measures dust in real time and lets miners know the amount of coal mine dust they are exposed to throughout their shift so, if necessary, immediate actions can be taken to avoid an overexposure on that shift.
In addition, in Phase II, operators must post the results of CPDM sampling within 12 hours of the sampled shift, and miners with evidence of black lung must be given a copy of the sample data within the first hour of the miner’s next work shift.
The rule is the culmination of MSHA’s End Black Lung-ACT NOW Campaign—which beginning in late 2009 with enhanced enforcement and education—refocused attention on the tragedy of black lung that has caused or contributed to the deaths of 76,000 coal miners since 1969. Over the past 45 years, more than $45 billion in federal compensation has been paid as a result of this disease.
Since the End Black Lung-ACT NOW campaign began, there have been significant improvements as the yearly average concentration of respirable dust for the dustiest occupations dropped each year to new lows. Last year, under Phase I of the new rule with its increased requirements, including more stringent sampling, and mandates to have respirable dust controls in place to keep dust levels down, the yearly average dropped to its lowest levels ever at .64 milligrams per cubic meter of air (.64mg/m3). This is far below the current 2.0 standard and even below the 1.5 standard that will go into effect on August 1, 2016.
The drop in respirable coal mine dust levels is not the only improvement in the air that miners breathe. There has been a dramatic decrease in coal miners’ exposure to respirable crystalline silica dust, with rates dropping to nearly half of those recorded in 2009. Like
Like black lung, silicosis is a debilitating and potentially deadly black lung disease. With the new respirable dust rule in place, the yearly average of silica was the lowest ever in 2015 at 27.8 micrograms per cubic meter of air (µg/m3 ).
The respirable coal mine dust rule was designed to achieve lower exposures and it is doing just that. Since the final rule went into effect on August 1, 2014, 87,534 dust samples have been collected from 1,363 surface and underground coal mines by MSHA and mine operators and nearly 99 percent of those samples met compliance levels.