Coal miners would be protected from black lung disease under proposed silica rule – by Robert Benincasa (Georgia Public Broadcasting – July 5, 2023)

The Labor Department is proposing a new rule limiting miners’ exposure to silica — a toxic dust created by cutting into rock that has been linked to a recent epidemic of severe black lung disease among coal miners.

“The purpose of this proposed rule is simple: prevent more miners from suffering from debilitating and deadly occupational illnesses by reducing their exposure to silica dust,” Assistant Secretary for Mine Safety and Health Chris Williamson said in a statement. The move comes after decades of regulatory inaction highlighted in an NPR/FRONTLINE investigation in 2018.

The investigation found evidence of an outbreak of a severe form of black lung disease called progressive massive fibrosis – in numbers far more extensive than federal monitors had reported. Decades of dust collection data also showed that miners had been exposed to excessive amounts of silica thousands of times.

The silica problem comes from coal miners cutting into sandstone as they mine coal, generating dust. Those dust particles are sharp, and can lodge in the lungs permanently. There has been more sandstone being cut in recent years, as the larger coal deposits in Appalachia are exhausted.

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